Understanding hearing loss

​​In Australia, one out of every 1,000 children is diagnosed at birth with a hearing loss. By the time they reach school age, two in every 1,000 children are diagnosed as having a hearing loss.

When children have a hearing loss, they cannot hear certain sounds or conversations. This depends on whether their hearing loss is mild, moderate, severe or profound.

Your child may be born deaf, or become deaf when they’re older.

How people talk about hearing loss

People choose to talk about hearing loss in different ways. You might hear people say ‘deaf’, ‘hard of hearing’, ‘hearing loss’ or ‘hearing impairment’.

'Hard of hearing' usually means a hearing loss that ranges from mild to severe. Children who are hard of hearing usually communicate through spoken language and use hearing aids. It’s important your child wears their listening device as much as possible. This will help their speech, language and learning.

'Deaf' usually means a hearing loss that is severe to profound. Children who have severe or profound hearing loss may use cochlear implants.

Some people with different types of hearing loss identify themselves as being part of the Deaf community.

Types of hearing loss

There are four main types of hearing loss:

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss happens when there is damage or a blockage in the outer or middle ear which stops sounds from reaching the inner ear properly.

It can be caused by:

  • an ear infection
  • a build-up of fluid behind the ear drum
  • damage to the three tiny bones in the middle ear.

Conductive hearing loss is often temporary and may range from mild to severe.

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss happens when there is permanent damage to the tiny hair-like cells of the inner ear or the auditory (hearing) nerve. This stops or weakens the transfer of nerve signals to the brain.

A sensorineural hearing loss may be mild, moderate, severe or profound.

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is when there is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder

Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder happens when there is a problem with the auditory nerve transmitting the signal from the cochlea in the inner ear to the brain. It can range from mild to profound and often fluctuates.

Signs of hearing loss

Depending on the type of hearing loss, your child may not hear you speak if your voice is soft or when there is background noise in the room.

Signs of hearing loss can include:

  • delayed speech and language skills
  • lack of response to loud noises
  • a voice quality that is too loud or hard to understand
  • needing spoken words repeated, or misunderstanding what is being said.

Speak to your child’s maternal child and health nurse or doctor if you have concerns about their development. They can refer your child to an audiologist to assess their hearing.

What causes hearing loss

Hearing loss can be caused by:

  • genetics
  • complications during birth
  • premature birth
  • jaundice
  • infections or illnesses
  • chronic middle ear fluid.

Sometimes no cause is found.

Assessment and support

Find out about how to get a hearing assessment for your child, and what support they can get if they're diagnosed with a hearing loss.

How hearing loss may affect learning

The first few years of a child’s life are important for developing language.

Most young children with hearing loss can develop language by five years old as long as they can:

  • hear the language (or see sign language)
  • take part in early communication with their family, other adults and children.

If a young child’s hearing loss is not treated and communication and language development is delayed, this can affect learning. This may lead to them experiencing learning difficulties.

Early diagnosis to support learning

If your child is deaf or hard of hearing, they can still learn, achieve and reach their full potential. They just need the right support.

Early diagnosis can make a big difference to language development and learning. This could be through:

  • infant hearing screening programs
  • an early intervention program
  • wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants.

Digital hearing aids and cochlear implants mean children with severe and profound deafness can hear speech sounds. If a child is diagnosed early, it’s more likely that they can develop spoken language.

Your child has the same right to education as other children. If needed, their education provider will make reasonable adjustments to support their participation.

Contact the Victorian Deaf Education Institute if you have any questions about education support for your child.

Find more information about hearing loss support:

Find support and advice

If your child is deaf or hard of hearing, there are support organisations to help you and your family: