Portrait of a Learner 4-8

Systems Change

Factor Connections

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Hearing is our ability to process sounds in the environment. We typically learn many early concepts through what we hear, in addition to other modalities such as sight and touch. Students may have difficulties processing sounds in their environment due to hearing loss, Auditory Processing disorder, or difficulty with spoken language as a result of a broader neurological or developmental condition. Students with auditory processing disorder do not have hearing loss, but still struggle with understanding the content and context of spoken language. Students with hearing loss who have inadequate access to language and community support may lack critical early learning experiences, which can lead to difficulties developing early precursors to Communication skills (including foundational phonological skills).

Main Ideas

Hearing is measured as the ability to hear sounds in the typical human range of approximately 20 - 20,000 Hz. Hearing loss typically impacts high frequency speech sounds (e.g., /sh/, /s/, /f/, /th/) more than other frequencies.

Children with hearing loss often lack access to a sufficiently supportive early language environment. This can lead to a lack of early language exposure, increasing children's risk of missing sensitive windows for development that can make some concepts harder to grasp. A lack of support in early language exposure may occur both because hearing loss and other Auditory Processing issues can take upwards of five years to diagnose, and also because the vast majority of children with hearing loss (up to 90% or more) are born to hearing parents who do not speak sign language. This means that many caregivers struggle to provide a supportive early language environment for their children with hearing loss. Added supports down the line at home and at school can help counter a lack of early language exposure.

Students with hearing loss may learn sign language as their Primary communicative language or as supportive Communication access. Hearing aids and cochlear implants do not always completely restore hearing or support full language comprehension, and individuals using such external aids may sometimes wish to remove or switch them off. Therefore, students with hearing loss can benefit from learning sign language even if they have access to external aids. Furthermore, research suggests that “bilingual” or “bimodal” education in both sign language and written text may also lead to the greatest educational benefits. Approximately 77% of deaf students learn in general education classrooms; educators can help support students with hearing loss through relationship-building (providing critical Social Supports), and can scaffold engagement though multiple modes of Communication.

Learn More

  • Variability among Deaf Learners: Free webinar with experts discussing how to design learning environments for deaf and hard of hearing students
  • A guide written by researchers presenting science-supported methods for caregivers to support Deaf and Hard of Hearing children.

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