Almost all babies have their hearing screened as part of the Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program (VIHSP) or Universal Newborn Hearing Screening within the first few weeks of life.

There are also times when a child is referred for a hearing test during the years before they start school. This may be because of risk factors for hearing loss during pregnancy and birth or a family history of hearing loss and other times it may due to concerns about a child’s speech development. It may seem odd to some parents when they are asked to get their child’s hearing tested, especially if there are no concerns about a child’s hearing.

Even if there are no hearing concerns, there are always benefits to having a child’s hearing tested by an audiologist at least once between birth and starting school.

Risk factors for hearing loss

There are a number of generally accepted risk factors for hearing loss in newborns, which include:

  • Family history of permanent hearing loss
  • Intensive care at birth with treatments including assisted ventilation, treatment with aminoglycoside antibiotics, hyperbilirubinaemia requiring exchange transfusion
  • Infections during pregnancy (eg. Toxoplasmosis, Syphilis, Varicella, Rubella, CMV, Herpes)
  • Craniofacial abnormalities
  • Syndromes associated with hearing loss (eg. Down’s Syndrome, Usher Syndrome, Waardenberg Syndrome)
  • Neurodegenerative disorders
  • Head trauma
  • Meningitis

A follow up diagnostic hearing test with an audiologist is organised soon after birth for serious cases or a referral is made when the child is approximately 9 months old. Referrals may also be made if there is a risk of late-onset or progressive hearing loss.

More information can be found on the VIHSP website

Speech delay

There could be many factors contributing to delayed speech development. The inability to hear sounds and then reproduce them is a big reason and it is the reason why speech pathologists request a hearing test to be performed prior to commencing speech therapy. Even if your child passed their hearing screening at birth, there is a possibility that they could acquire a temporary, or in some cases permanent, hearing loss in the years following. Middle ear infections are common in children and can be the cause of temporary hearing loss which then has an effect on speech development.

See our article on Middle Ear Infections in Children.

Behavioural concerns

Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate whether a child has a behaviour disorder or a hearing loss because changes in behaviour are common for both. Children can often become tired and frustrated if they are experiencing hearing difficulties, which can result in some unfavourable behaviours. Children are often referred for a hearing test just to rule out hearing loss in order to work out the underlying cause of a child’s behaviour. If hearing loss is the cause of the behavioural problems, appropriate referrals can then be made to treat any middle ear problems or to provide appropriate intervention in the form of hearing devices.

For school-aged children, academic performance or behaviour in the classroom may also prompt a referral for a hearing test or auditory processing assessment. Sometimes a child’s hearing can be normal, but the neural pathways of sound from the ear to the brain might still be developing and can result in difficulties with following instructions, hearing in background noise and literacy. In this case, a Central Auditory Processing assessment may be beneficial to confirm or rule out any auditory processing difficulties.

See our article on Central Auditory Processing Disorder.

If there are any concerns about your child’s hearing, big or small, our audiologists are happy to assess their hearing and middle ear function and answer any questions you may have. Sometimes just a simple hearing test can give you peace of mind or can be the first step in the journey to help your child with their development.

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