Effects of hearing loss


It is well recognized that hearing is critical to speech and language development, communication, and learning. The earlier hearing loss occurs in a child's life, the more serious the effects on the child's development. Similarly, the earlier the problem is found and intervention begun, the less serious the impact will be on the child.

Hearing loss affects children in 4 important ways:

  • It causes delays in the development of receptive and expressive communication skills (speech and language).
  • The language deficit causes learning problems that result in reduced academic achievement.
  • Difficulties communicating often lead to social isolation and poor self-esteem.
  • It may have an impact on vocational choices.

Communication effects


  • 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 difficulty 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 intervention.
  • Children with hearing loss have difficulty 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 difficulty understanding and writing complex sentences, such as 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 difficult 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 3rd or 4th grade level, unless appropriate intervention occurs early.
  • The gap in school achievement between children with normal hearing and those with hearing loss usually widens as they move forward through school.
  • The level of achievement is related to how involved parents are and the quantity, quality, and timing of the support services children receive.

Social functioning

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

For more information

If you have questions about the effects of hearing loss, call Rehabilitation Services at 595-3621. If you are inside the hospital, dial 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).