Hearing Loss and Developmental Delay in Children

Hearing loss is the most common sensory deficit experienced by children. An estimated three million children in the United States have hearing loss. Hearing loss, especially when it occurs early in a child's life, can greatly affect speech and language development.

Approximately 1.3 million American children under the age of 3 have hearing loss. Even temporary or treatable forms of hearing loss, such as fluid in the ears, can cause delays if they are experienced by a child who is in learning to understand language and to speak. Impaired social skills may also occur in children with hearing loss. Additionally, many children with hearing loss experience difficulty in areas of academic achievement.

These are preventable—early detection of hearing loss, and effective intervention can decrease the impact that hearing loss has on a child's development.

Mother looking down at baby
Jovo Jovanovic / Stocksy United

Signs and Symptoms

These are the early signs and symptoms of hearing loss in infants and children.


  • Does not startle at loud noises
  • Does not turn their head toward sounds
  • Does not say at least some words by 12 months of age

Older children:

  • Delayed speech development
  • Speech that does not sound clear
  • Does not follow directions
  • Frequently asks you to repeat what you have said
  • Listens to music or television at a high volume

Most infants are screened for hearing loss at birth and children are usually tested again before starting school. However, if your infant or child shows symptoms of hearing loss at any time, it is important to have them tested as soon as possible to minimize any effects that hearing loss might have on their development.

Hearing Loss and Child Development

These are the signs and symptoms of hearing loss and the effect on child development.

  • Delayed speech development: the child does not say 50 individual words by their second birthday or form two-word sentences by their second birthday.
  • Vocabulary develops much more slowly in children who have hearing loss. The gap in vocabulary development between children with and without hearing loss widens with age.
  • Children with hearing loss have difficulty hearing and subsequently pronouncing certain sounds such as "s", "sh", "f", "t", and "k". This affects the way they speak and can make them difficult to understand.
  • Children with hearing loss often have difficulty with complex sentence structure.
  • The child may have difficulty hearing word endings such as -s or -ed.
  • They sometimes cannot hear their own voices when they speak or hear only a distorted version of themselves when they speak causing them to speak too loudly or too softly.
  • Children with hearing loss often struggle academically.
  • Communication problems can lead to social problems and feelings of isolation among children with hearing loss and speech delays.

As previously mentioned, early detection of any hearing loss and early appropriate intervention is crucial for the best outcomes. The type of intervention used depends on the type and degree of hearing loss and usually involves a team of professionals. The intervention will be different for each child.

A Word From Verywell

Any treatment that improves or aids hearing will also minimize and help to correct any developmental delays, including academic and social problems. Examples of some treatments for hearing loss include​ hearing aids or surgery.

In many cases, speech therapy can be helpful to improve any problems speaking that have resulted from untreated hearing loss. For children who are completely deaf, sign language can help to remedy academic and social problems and minimize feelings of isolation.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.