Hearing Impairment What You Should Know for Special Education Services

Boy with a hearing impairment sitting in a classroom at school using hearing aids.

Emma had always been an active and curious child. Then, around age 5, her mom, Lena, noticed that Emma didn’t respond when she called her name or turned her head towards sounds like other children her age did. 

Concerned, Lena brought Emma to a pediatrician, who referred them to a specialist for further evaluation. It was then that Lena learned that Emma had a hearing impairment.

Lena was worried about what this meant for Emma’s education and future. 

There are many opportunities to thrive and succeed with the proper support and resources. That is what I hope to provide you today. 

What is a Hearing Impairment? 

A hearing impairment is when a person has difficulty hearing sounds or speech. The hearing loss may fluctuate or be constant. 

This can include a mild hearing impairment to complete deafness. When the hearing impairment is above 81 decibels, it is usually considered deaf. 

4 Types of Hearing Impairments

#1 Conductive Hearing Loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves cannot efficiently move through the outer or middle ear to the inner ear. 

Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss

  • Earwax buildup
  • Fluid buildup
  • Ear infections
  • Perforated eardrum or other damage
  • Abnormal bone structure
  • Tumor

This type of hearing impairment is common in children with chronic ear infections. 

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#2 Sensorineural Hearing Loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the nerves in the inner ears or the hair cells are damaged, which prevents sound from transmitting from the ear to the brain. 

Causes of Sensorineural Hearing Loss

  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Illness
  • Medications
  • Inherited conditions
  • Aging

This is the most common type of hearing impairment, and usually, hearing aids can help.  

#3 Mixed Hearing Loss

Mixed hearing impairment is a combination of conductive and sensorineural hearing loss. This means there is a problem in both the outer/middle ear and nerve pathways or the inner ear.

#4 Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder

Auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder is when sound waves enter the ear, but due to damage in the inner ear or nerves, the brain can’t understand. 

Causes of Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder

  • Premature birth
  • Inherited Condition
  • Head injury
  • Issues with low oxygen at birth
  • Damage to the auditory nerve
  • Extreme jaundice as a newborn
  • Damage to hair cells in the inner ear
  • Certain medications

How Do You Know If Your Child Has a Hearing Impairment? 

As a special education teacher, I have not worked directly with someone with a hearing impairment. 

However, I did know a family friend who had a hearing impairment. She required a hearing aid at school to make sure she could hear her teachers teach in class. 

She did very well. However, some students struggle with being identified as having a hearing impairment. 

There are certain milestones every parent looks for in their child. 

Child Development Milestones

  • Rolling over
  • Eating their first solid food
  • Crawling
  • Taking their first step

When it comes to hearing milestones, by the time a child is 2 ½ to 3 years old, they should be able to: 

  • React to sounds
  • Understand where sounds come from
  • Speaking
  • Not startle with a noise

As children go for their yearly appointments, the doctors should be able to identify early warning signs of a hearing impairment. 

Symptoms Of Hearing Issues to Look for as a Parent

  • Delayed speech or language development compared to other children their age.
  • Difficulty understanding speech, especially in noisy environments or when multiple people are talking at once
  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves or saying “what?” or “huh?”
  • Not responding when called from a distance or without seeing who is speaking to them. 
  • Turning the volume up on electronic devices or the television up higher than usual
  • Misunderstanding or misinterpreting instructions or questions
  • Exhibiting behavior that suggests frustration, confusion, or withdrawal due to difficulty communicating or following conversations

If you observe any of these symptoms, schedule a hearing evaluation for your child to determine the cause.  

Early detection and intervention can significantly affect a child’s communication and learning ability. Check out these resources for developmental milestones

Are There Special Education Services for Hearing Impaired Students? 

The quick answer is yes. 

A hearing impairment is a disability under The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 or IDEA. 

Both deafness and hearing impairment are classified separately under IDEA. 

But the hearing impairment must adversely affect their educational performance to qualify for special education services.

What Programs and Services are there for Hearing Impaired Children? 

Depending on their needs, various programs, and services are available to help a child with a hearing impairment. Here are some examples:

Early Intervention Programs

Early Intervention programs provide support and services to children with hearing impairments and their families from birth to age 3. 

Check with your state to see what programs are in your area. Here is a list of U.S. State, Commonwealth & Territory Early Intervention Contacts

Services may include therapy, assistive tools, and parent education. Here are a few different services I found: 

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)

The Individualized Family Service Plan is a written process for a child born to three years old eligible for early intervention services. 

The IFSP explains the goals and services available to meet that child’s goals. The services may include specialized instruction, assistive technology, and accommodations to support learning and communication.

Auditory-Verbal Therapy

This specialized form of speech therapy focuses on teaching children with hearing impairments how to listen and speak without relying on sign language or lip reading.

Read more about auditory-verbal therapy here


Sign Language Instruction

Sign language can be used as a primary mode of communication to help improve communication skills and provide access to a rich language and cultural community. 

Therefore, it is best to start sign language as early as possible. 


Hearing Assistive Technology

Many types of hearing assistive technology are available to help children with hearing impairments, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and FM systems that amplify sound.

How Can You Help Your Child With a Hearing Impairment At Home? 

  • Speaking in clear, slow sentences, repeating those sentences when necessary, and checking for understanding. 
  • Use an amplification device so your child can hear you clearly. 
  • Using assistive technology to help your child with a hearing impairment can be beneficial at home and school. Some children can have amplified devices or hearing aids for speech and hearing. 
  • Have multiple scenarios or plans for when your child is in a particular mood or missing something important at school.
  • Using social stories with pictures and nonverbal communication cues can benefit those with hearing impairments. For example, you can have pictures of everyday tasks around the house, like picking up dirty clothes, cleaning up toys, and bathing. 
  • Attending support groups through local hospitals and agencies.  

Additional Resources For Your Child With Special Needs 

In conclusion, as a parent of a child with hearing issues, it’s essential to be aware of the different types of hearing impairments, common symptoms to look out for, and the programs and services available to support your child’s learning and communication needs. 

Early detection and intervention can make a big difference in your child’s development and success, so don’t hesitate to seek help if you have concerns about your child’s hearing. 

Building relationships with your child’s healthcare provider, school district, and other professionals can also help navigate the special education process and advocate for your child’s needs. 

Remember that children with hearing impairments can thrive and succeed with the proper support and resources.

We offer one-on-one special education tutoring and Free IEP services that can be done from anywhere you are! Why? Our special education experts conduct their sessions online!

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Taylor Fulcher

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