A child’s hearing difficulties are not always easy to spot.
That’s why volunteers like Alice Jones of Zephyrhills can play such an important role in a child’s life.
Jones — recently named Sertoma Speech & Hearing Foundation of Florida’s volunteer of the month — has spent the past several years traveling to various Pasco County schools to conduct hearing tests for children.
The 76-year-old goes to schools within roughly a 20-mile radius of her home, sitting with children who are wearing earphones, and asking them if they can hear the sounds coming through the wires. When they can’t, Sertoma lets the school know, so they can inform the child’s parent.
Most of the time the youngsters can hear. But when they can’t, there are places where they can plug in for help, said Barbra Antonelli, an audiologist at the New Port Richey site for All Children’s Outpatient Care Center of Pasco.
Children can be born with hearing loss or it sometimes develops as they grow older, said Judith Reese, an audiologist at JC Audiology in Lutz. Federal law requires screening of infants. That typically occurs before the baby leaves the hospital, or during a follow-up visit soon after.
Some Pasco County public schools have staff members who conduct hearing screenings, but others use volunteers to do the checks. Sertoma volunteers, like Jones, conduct hearing tests for kindergarten, first- and sixth-graders in Pasco County public schools.
The organization always is looking for more help, Jones added. She got involved because a member of the Zephyrhills Noon Rotary Club asked members to volunteer.
Schools where Jones has helped out over the years include Connerton Elementary School in Land O’ Lakes, Veterans Elementary School in Wesley Chapel, West Zephyrhills Elementary and Stewart Middle schools in Zephyrhills, and Pasco Elementary and Pasco Middle schools in Dade City.
There are various causes of hearing loss, Reese said.
“One of the things that happens most often in children is a temporary hearing loss that is due to ear infections or even a build up of fluid in the ear,” Reese said. “Those are easily treated by medical professionals.”
Early detection is important.
“We really like to catch them early because you can have significant delays in speech and language, even if somebody has an ear infection for just a few months,” Reese said. “When they’re developing their speech and language, it can have a big impact on the child.”
Infants who are not startled by loud sounds may have a hearing loss, Antonelli said. If they don’t respond to their name or a dog barking, that may also be another sign.
Sometimes the problem is not obvious, Reese said.
Typically, if a child has an ear infection, parents become aware of it because it hurts.
“So, they’re crying or their ears are real red,” Reese said. “But if it’s just a build up of fluid, they may kind of just disengage, or tug at their ear.”
But sometimes fluid inside the ear doesn’t hurt, but is hindering a child’s hearing. In a case like that, a parent may think that their child is refusing to behave, or lagging behind in school because they’re not trying, Reese said. In fact, it may be that the child didn’t hear his parents or teacher, or didn’t hear them accurately.
It’s not just a matter of hearing sound, Reese explained. It’s also a matter of processing it properly.
Some signs that children may have a hearing loss include errors in articulation, Antonelli said. It also may seem that children don’t listen well or have trouble following directions. Or, they may want the volume on the television turned up.
When children don’t get help, they can experience academic and social difficulties.
If the hearing loss is spotted early, though, those problems can be avoided. Even newborns can be fitted with hearing aids, Antonelli said.
“Basically, they’ll never fall behind,” she said.
For more information, call Sertoma at (727) 834-5479, or visit FamilyHearingHelp.org.
Hearing loss symptoms and getting help
Hearing loss can happen when any part of the ear is not working properly, including the outer ear, middle ear, inner ear, acoustic nerve and auditory system, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The losses can vary greatly and can be due to a number of causes, the CDC says.
Here are some facts from the CDC to help you learn more about symptoms of hearing loss and what to do when they appear.
Signs in babies
• They do not startle at loud noises
• They do not turn to the source of a sound after 6 months of age
• They do not say single words, such as “dada” or “mama” by 1 year of age
• They turn their heads when they see you, but not if you just call their name
• They seem to hear some sounds but not others
Signs in Children
• Speech is delayed
• Speech is not clear
• They do not follow directions
• They often say, “Huh?”
• They turn the television up too high
The signs and symptoms of hearing loss are different for each child. If you think that a child might have hearing loss, ask the child’s doctor for a hearing screening as soon as possible.
Published August 13, 2014
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