When It's Not Just Hearing Loss

By Morgan Leppla & Laura Friedman

This year Autism Sunday, an international day to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is on Feb. 12.

Did you know that one third or more of pediatric hearing loss cases overlap with another condition? This may sometimes be ASD, making treatment and management of co-occurring conditions a challenge.

In a 2007 report in the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, British researcher Lindsay Edwards, Ph.D., cites an estimate that 30 to 40 percent of children with hearing loss have co-occurring conditions that could prohibit them from forming language, speech, and sociocognitive skills. But despite this large percentage, there is little research on hearing loss that occurs with other disorders. What research there is has shown the benefit of cochlear implantation for children with additional needs (such as physical or learning disabilities), and the difficulties of language acquisition and development for 3-year-olds with developmentally related conditions such as ASD, cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome.

One silver lining is that the fact that 30 to 40 percent of pediatric hearing loss may occur with other conditions may prove helpful in predicting future disorders. A July 2016 Autism Research paper suggests that a noninvasive measure of otoacoustic emissions in the inner ear—a common hearing test for infants, who are preverbal—may help identify the risk of ASD at an early age, accelerating treatment. Study author Anne Luebke, Ph.D., of University of Rochester Medical School, found that children with ASD often have trouble hearing a frequency range (1–2 kHz) that is important for understanding speech. The range includes sounds for the meaning-conveying consonants S-, H-, and F-.

Scientific conclusions can help shape future research, but cannot illustrate daily life for families with children with co-occurring conditions. Dual diagnoses make unlocking any child’s learning style challenging, but reviving research and upgrading professional training are essential tools in order to advocate for and successfully educate children with co-occurring conditions.

If you’re interested in funding research related to diagnosing and treating co-occuring disorders, such as hearing loss and autism, please consider donating today: hhf.org/donate or contact us at development@hhf.org.

This blog was adapted from an article original appearing in Hearing Health magazine’s Fall 2016 issue. For references in this story, see hhf.org/fall2016_references.

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