Children with unilateral hearing loss (UHL) are being diagnosed at younger ages because of newborn hearing screening. Historically, they have been considered at risk for difficulties in listening and language development. Little information is available on contemporary cohorts of children identified in the early months of life. We examined auditory and language acquisition outcomes in a contemporary cohort of early-identified children with UHL and compared their outcomes at preschool age with peers with mild bilateral loss and with normal hearing.
As part of the Mild and Unilateral Hearing Loss in Children Study, we collected auditory and spoken language outcomes on children with unilateral, bilateral hearing loss and with normal hearing over a four-year period. This report provides a cross-sectional analysis of results at age 48 months. A total of 120 children (38 unilateral and 31 bilateral mild, 51 normal hearing) were enrolled in the study from 2010 to 2015. Children started the study at varying ages between 12 and 36 months of age and were followed until age 36–48 months. The median age of identification of hearing loss was 3.4 months (IQR: 2.0, 5.5) for unilateral and 3.6 months (IQR: 2.7, 5.9) for the mild bilateral group. Families completed an intake form at enrolment to provide baseline child and family-related characteristics. Data on amplification fitting and use were collected via parent questionnaires at each annual assessment interval. This study involved a range of auditory development and language measures. For this report, we focus on the end of follow-up results from two auditory development questionnaires and three standardized speech-language assessments. Assessments included in this report were completed at a median age of 47.8 months (IQR: 38.8, 48.5). Using ANOVA, we examined auditory and language outcomes in children with UHL and compared their scores to children with mild bilateral hearing loss and those with normal hearing.
On most measures, children with UHL performed poorer than those in the mild bilateral and normal hearing study groups. All children with hearing loss performed at lower levels compared to the normal hearing control group. However, mean standard scores for the normal hearing group in this study were above normative means for the language measures. In particular, children with UHL showed gaps compared to the normal hearing control group in functional auditory listening and in receptive and expressive language skills (three quarters of one standard deviation below) at age 48 months. Their performance in receptive vocabulary and speech production was not significantly different from that of their hearing peers.
Even when identified in the first months of life, children with UHL show a tendency to lag behind their normal hearing peers in functional auditory listening and in receptive and expressive language development.
Senior Scientist, CHEO Research Institute