When a Speech Problem is really a Hearing Problem?
Updated: Apr 10, 2019
Children who are late learning to talk or who continue to struggle with language, pronunciation and vocabulary may have hidden difficulties with their hearing, which have been overlooked.
A regular hearing test will not always identify these, as it is simply looking for hearing loss. However, 'distortions' in the way a child hears can make mastering speech and language extraordinarily difficult. This is why we end up treating so many children who have had years of speech and language therapy and yet continue to struggle.
By carrying out a more advanced hearing test, we can assess how a child hears cross the whole range of language. Ideally, we would like children to hear all sounds - vowels, consonants, sibilants etc. at the same volume. Yet often, those with language problems do not. Through their ears, some parts of language may sound EXTREMELY LOUD, while the next part of a word is so quiet it is lost. A bit like trying to listen to someone on a mobile phone in an area of poor reception.
Other children have what we call 'dyslaterality' in hearing. In other words, they flip from one ear to the other in order to listen to different parts of words (phonemes). This is significant, because words entering the right ear get processed immediately, but those entering the left ear do not reach the part of the brain which processes language until a bit later. This 'time lag' between when different phonemes reach the brain can cause havoc. It means that the order of phonemes within words can become jumbled up. So , you may say "CAT" to your child, but their brain receives "ACT". Now imagine a combination of the two difficulties I have just mentioned above. No wonder such a child has speech/language difficulties! (and yet their regular hearing test reported 'no problem')
Such children often have had a history of glue ear/ear infections, but not always. They often have speech and language difficulties, symptoms of dyslexia, ADD,ADHD and poor concentration.
The good news is that it is possible to give their ears a 'tune up' through a 10 day course of Key Auditory therapy, to get the muscles and the reflexes in the ears working as they should do, allowing them to begin to hear more accurately and consistently. We have even had children managing to speak for the first time following a course of auditory therapy.
So, if a child appears to having difficulties with language, don't forget to to check out HOW they are actually hearing first.