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Slight hearing loss linked to poorer school performance

December 12, 2019

Children with slight hearing loss scored less well in their cito test, taken in the final year of primary school, and showed more behavioral problems than young teenagers who hear well.

Erasmus MC researchers published these findings in the scientific journal JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery this week. A previous study showed that almost 1 in 5 children between the ages of 9 and 11 have a hearing loss. These figures are based on the large-scale Generation R cohort study in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Children with mild to severe hearing loss (40 to 60dB hearing loss) are known to have more behavioral problems and at times do worse at school than children with no hearing problems. To date, little was known about children with a slight hearing loss (between 15 and 25dB hearing loss). The researchers had already documented how often children in Rotterdam suffer from hearing loss and they now aimed to determine how this affects the children in their everyday lives.

The study included the data of 4,479 children. These children had had a hearing test between the ages of 9 and 11. And their parents had been asked to complete a questionnaire about their children’s behavior. Furthermore, the scores of the cito tests of 2,399 children could be used. When comparing the children, it appeared that particularly the boys who had poorer hearing were more prone to attention and social problems. Both boys and girls with poor hearing scored one to two points lower in their cito test (standardized school achievement test taken in the final year of primary school in the Netherlands) than children with normal hearing.

It is possible that these children find it more difficult to hear their teacher. Researcher Carlijn le Clercq says: “The effects found were small, but showed that even for children with slight hearing loss it could be burdensome. More research is needed to be able to say with certainty why this is the case. You can imagine that if your hearing is less good, you have to make more of an effort to be able to understand things, making it  more strenuous than for people with normal hearing. Listening to a teacher in the classroom at school can be even more challenging. There is often ambient noise in the classroom, which makes it even more difficult to understand the teacher. This means that you need all your energy to understand the teacher, which leaves less energy to focus on your work.”

Le Clercq says: “We feel it is important that people are aware of the possible effects of slight hearing loss. Moving these children to the front of the class could help, for instance. If you suspect that children have difficulty at school or cannot concentrate, it could help to give these children extra counseling or even to have their hearing tested before real problems occur.”

The article can be found online at the website of the scientific journal JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. The study is part of the Generation R project. This population study monitors the growth, development, and health of children growing up in Rotterdam from early fetal life through young adulthood.