Hearing Loss and Its Effects on Speech and Language Development

By Yomna Elsiddig, speech-language pathologist; Calyn Russ, audiologist; and Lori Wagner, speech-language pathologist, Providence Speech and Hearing Center

Have you ever noticed that our lives are never truly silent? If you think about it, we are surrounded by a range of sounds we’ve grown accustomed to tuning out: the air conditioner humming, doors closing, pens clicking. Now think about the conversations in your world: on the television or radio, in the next room, a mother reading to her child nearby.

Children with hearing impairments aren’t just missing out on environmental sounds- substantial language exposure and incidental learning are also absent. A child’s speech and language development is highly dependent on his ability to hear. Resulting developmental delays depend on how early the hearing loss occurred and how quickly intervention takes place. It is best to see a specialist as soon as a concern is identified. This is where speech-language pathologists and audiologists can help. Early intervention is designed to:

  • Identify hearing loss, as well as speech and language disorders, as early as possible, that impact development of communication, reading, writing, and social skills
  • Help speech-delayed children catch up to their peers through individualized treatment plans and therapy
  • Teach parents tools and techniques to help encourage communication and language development in their children

There are varying degrees and causes of hearing loss. It could be a temporary challenge or a permanent loss. Consequences on speech and language development include limited language skills such as a smaller vocabulary and speaking in short and simple sentences, as well as decreased speech intelligibility.

Children with hearing loss have difficulty hearing higher frequency sounds like those in the letters ’s’, ‘f’, ‘sh’, ‘t’, or ‘k’ as well as speech markers like nasality in ‘m’ or ‘n.’ Because we speak what we hear, these sounds and markers are missing from their own speech. These children also have difficulty hearing the ends of words where grammatical information is found (plural –s, possessive –s, past tense –ed).

CHOC and Providence Speech and Hearing Center collaborate with families to address any speech therapy and advanced audiology services to best meet a patient’s needs. Speak to your pediatrician about a referral to a speech-language pathologist and/or audiologist.

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  • Kids and Ear Infections
    An ear infection is an acute inflammation of the middle ear caused by fluid and bacteria behind the eardrum. “Usually it starts with a cold, so the child will have ...

Kids and Ear Infections

An ear infection is an acute inflammation of the middle ear caused by fluid and bacteria behind the eardrum. “Usually it starts with a cold, so the child will have a runny nose and a cough. Colds can lead to  ear infections in susceptible children,” says Dr. Nguyen Pham, an ear, nose and throat specialist at CHOC  Children’s. “Older kids will pull on their ears and tell you their ears hurt. For infants, symptoms can include  fever, irritability, or changes in their eating and sleeping patterns. A pediatrician can look at the eardrum  to diagnose an ear infection.” Generally, ear infections are treated with oral antibiotics.

“The best thing families can do is to have really good hand hygiene,” says Dr. Pham. “Everyone should wash hands constantly. Encourage children to not touch their faces with their hands or rub their eyes,” he says. Colds and the flu can frequently lead to ear infections, so children should be protected against colds and get a flu vaccine, Dr. Pham advises.

“An acute ear infection can lead to temporary hearing loss because of the fluid behind the eardrum. That type of hearing loss will get better over several weeks. If it doesn’t get better, that’s the time to go to the pediatrician or a specialist,” says Dr. Pham. If you suspect your child has hearing loss, ask for an audiogram,  which is a formal hearing test. A pediatrician can perform this test or refer the child to a specialist such as  an audiologist or otolaryngologist.

Children who have four or more ear infections per year meet the criteria to have ear tubes inserted into the  eardrum. Ear tubes create a drainage pathway for bacteria behind the eardrum to get out, so infections don’t  form. This is a commonly performed surgery in the U.S. and is very effective in preventing ear infections.


  • Number of babies born in the U.S. with permanent hearing loss: 3 in 1,000
  • Percentage of children in the U.S. with some hearing loss: 10%
  • Percentage of children who will have at least one ear infection by their second birthday: 90%

View the full feature on Kids and Ear Infections

Dr. Nguyen Pham
Dr. Nguyen Pham
CHOC Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist


Dr. Pham specializes in pediatric otolaryngology – head and neck surgery. Dr. Pham completed his residency at the  UC Davis Medical Center and a fellowship at Stanford University. He practiced advanced surgical techniques in airway reconstruction, otological surgery and the treatment of congenital defects at Stanford’s Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital. Dr. Pham has participated in many humanitarian endeavors, including a medical mission to perform cleft lip and palate surgeries in the Philippines and helping patients in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Dr. Pham speaks fluent Vietnamese.

Dr. Pham’s philosophy of care: “My philosophy is to truly listen to my patients and to provide compassionate  care based on the best possible scientific evidence.”

UC Irvine School of Medicine


More about Dr. Pham

This article was featured in the Orange County Register on February 24, 2014, and was written by Amy Bentley.