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Effects of hearing loss


Hearing is critical for developing speech and language and for learning. The earlier hearing loss occurs, the more serious the effects will be on the child's development. The earlier the problem is found and helpful services are started, the less serious the impact will be on the child.

Hearing loss affects children in 4 important ways:

  • It causes delays in speech and language skills.
  • The language problems impact learning and academic achievement.
  • Problems with speaking and learning can often lead to poor self-esteem and the child feeling isolated.
  • It may have an impact on job and career choices.

Communication effects

Vocabulary (number of words learned and used)

  • Vocabulary develops more slowly in children who have hearing loss.
  • Children with hearing loss learn concrete words like "cat," "jump," "five," and "red" more easily than abstract words like "before," "after," "equal to," and "jealous." They also have trouble with function words like "the," "an," "are," and "a."
  • The gap between the vocabulary of children with normal hearing and those with hearing loss widens with age. Children with hearing loss do not catch up without help.
  • Children with hearing loss have trouble understanding words with multiple meanings. For example, the word "bank" can mean the edge of a stream or a place where we put money.

Sentence structure

  • Children with hearing loss understand and use shorter, simpler sentences than children with normal hearing.
  • Children with hearing loss often have trouble understanding and writing complex sentences. Examples are those with relative clauses (The teacher I have for math was sick today) or passive voice (The ball was thrown by Mary).
  • Children with hearing loss often cannot hear word endings such as "s" or "ed." This leads to misunderstandings and misuse of verb tense, plurals, subject-verb agreement, and possessives.


  • Children with hearing loss often cannot hear quiet speech sounds such as "s," "sh," "f," "t," and "k." Therefore, they do not include them in their speech. For this reason, their speech may be hard to understand.
  • Children with hearing loss may not hear their own voices when they speak. They may speak too loudly or not loud enough. They may have a speaking pitch that is too high. They may sound like they are mumbling because of poor stress on syllables, poor inflection, or poor rate of speaking.

Academic achievement

  • Children with hearing loss have trouble in all areas of school work, especially reading and math concepts.
  • Children with mild to moderate hearing losses, on average, achieve 1–4 grade levels lower than their peers with normal hearing, unless steps are taken to help them.
  • Children with severe to profound hearing loss usually achieve skills no higher than the third or fourth grade unless unless they get help early.
  • The school achievement gap between children with normal hearing and those with hearing loss usually gets wider as they move forward through school.
  • The learning level each child achieves depends on how involved parents are and the amount, quality, and timing of support services the child receives.

Social functioning

  • Children with severe to profound hearing losses often report feeling isolated, without friends, and unhappy in school. This is especially true when they have limited contact with other children who have hearing loss.
  • These social problems appear to happen more often in children with mild or moderate hearing losses than in those with severe to profound losses.


If you have questions about the effects of hearing loss, call Rehabilitation Services at 901-595-3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.

Adapted from materials from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).