Hearing Impairment

Hearing impairment, deafness, and hard of hearing: what these terms mean

If your child is hard of hearing or deaf, it means that your child’s ears can’t do all or any of the things they should be able to do. Your child might have muffled hearing, or they might not be able to hear sounds coming from some directions, or they might have trouble hearing certain frequencies or sounds.

Types of deafness or hearing impairment

Deafness or hearing impairment can:

  • From at birth – this is congenital deafness or hearing impairment
  • If it starts after birth – this is acquired or progressive deafness or hearing impairment.

There are two main types of deafness or hearing impairment – conductive and sensorineural.

  • Conductive hearing impairment is when sounds from outside your child’s ear have trouble getting to or going through the different parts inside the ear. Conductive hearing impairment is usually caused by middle ear fluid from middle ear infections, and is usually temporary.
  • Sensorineural hearing impairment is when the nerves that are in charge of receiving sound and sorting out what it means don’t work properly. Sensorineural hearing impairment can be mild, moderate, severe or profound. Sensorineural hearing impairment usually lasts for life and can get worse over time.
  • Mixed hearing loss is when a child has both conductive and sensorineural hearing impairment.

Typical signs of deafness or hearing impairment

All typically developing babies and young children have the same developmental milestones. Babies develop at different rates, but should reach the milestones in the same order.

If your baby is deaf or hard of hearing, they won’t hear people speaking, which means they might not respond to your voice and other noises in the way you’d expect. As they get older, you might notice that their speech and language aren’t developing like other children’s.

As a guide, here’s what you’d expect in a typically developing baby. If your child isn’t doing these things, it might be a good idea to talk to your GP or child and family health nurse.

  • At 0-4 months, your baby should startle at a loud noise, turn their head or move her eyes to locate the source of the sound. If she’s upset, she should calm down when she hears your voice.
  • At 4-8 months, your baby should notice sounds around him, smile when spoken to, babble and understand simple words like ‘bye-bye’.
  • At 8-14 months, your baby should respond to her name, say simple words like ‘mama’ and ‘dada’, copy simple sounds and use her voice to get attention from people nearby.
  • At 14-24 months, your child will start to develop vocabulary, understand and follow simple instructions, and put two words together.

Sen4help: Resources Directory

Action on Hearing Loss

A hearing impairment charity


Deafness Research UK

A charity promoting research into hearing impairment


National Deaf Children’s Society

A charity to help deaf children and young people.


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