Hearing loss

Hearing check

Ear disease and associated hearing loss are prevalent among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

Otitis media (OM) is a chronic middle ear infection that often causes hearing loss. It is an inflammation of the middle ear that reduces the ability to hear clearly.

OM can be severe, leading to permanent deafness, or it can fluctuate.

If you can’t hear, you can’t learn

Children who have recurrent ear infections may become so used to their level of hearing that they do not know what it is like to hear clearly

This has a significant impact on children’s ability to learn, behaviour and  language and literacy development. They miss many of the cues that other children take for granted.

What can teachers do?

If you suspect a child suffers from hearing loss, then encourage the child’s parent/caregiver to see his or her GP.

The following is taken from Conductive hearing loss in the classroom by Erin Callahan (Team Leader, Statewide Speech and Language Service, Department of Education and Training, Western Australia):

  • Be aware of your own voice and volume in the classroom; ensure you project your voice
  • Children benefit from seeing your facial expressions and lips when you are speaking and reading.
  • If you’re talking to the class, stand still so children can focus on one point. Stand closer to children who you know have a hearing difficulty and ensure they can see your face.
  • Noisy classrooms often present a challenge to children with otitis media, particularly when they are trying to hear instructions
  • Some children with long histories of hearing loss will not have learned how to listen. Listening involves physically staying still and attending to and then understanding and thinking about what’s being said. As such, gain children’s attention before giving instructions, repeat the key elements, check their understanding by asking them to repeat the main points.
  • Pairing children with a buddy is another helpful strategy. When children don’t understand or have difficulty understanding instructions, they can be encouraged to go to a nominated buddy who will explain the task.
  • Working in small groups or in pairs is often helpful for children with otitis media as the number of voices they need to pay attention to are decreased when compared to the whole class.
  • Talk with children about hearing loss, including what it feels like and the strategies that children themselves can employ (such as asking a friend, keeping the noise down, facing the person when speaking, speaking clearly and asking questions to clarify information when you don’t understand). Awareness leads to action and acceptance.
  • Many children benefit from the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness (sounds, not letters) as well as pairing sounds with visual or gestural cues.
  • Some classrooms are equipped with a sound field amplification system which helps to project the teacher’s voice to the children by making it louder and easier to hear.

Further research on learning and hearing loss

  1. What Works. The Work program: Improving outcomes for Indigenous students website
    See http://www.whatworks.edu.au/dbAction.do?cmd=displaySitePage1&subcmd=select&id=172

With appropriate intervention, high-attending students with hearing loss stay at school longer and achieve at higher levels.

For many Aboriginal children, otitis media is a chronic condition with long-term health and educational effects. The persistence of the disease and its long-term effects is due partly to a lack of awareness of the disease among parents, caregivers, teachers and health workers, and partly to the lack of agreement about who is responsible for treating the disease and its effects.

  1. The Board of Studies (NSW) Otitis media and Aboriginal children: a handbook for teachers and communities (1994)
    See http://ab-ed.bostes.nsw.edu.au/files/otitis_media_aboriginal_children.pdf


Callahan, E (n.d.), Conductive hearing loss in the classroom, Western Australian Department of Education and Training, Perth, viewed 8 November 2016, <http://www.det.wa.edu.au/aboriginaleducation/detcms/cms-service/download/asset/?asset_id=18603438>