Mild deafness — major effects

Tanya looked at the printout of her daughter Honor's hearing test.  It was the usual result. Some hearing loss, slightly below ‘normal’ range. Nothing needed to be done, the specialists said. But it would soon become clear how wrong they were.

This story featured in Families, our quarterly magazine for members.  

Honor who has mild deafness having fun with her family at home.

Tanya and husband Simon first suspected things weren’t right when Honor was 18 months. “She’d been the happiest baby, but at 18 months she changed and became a grumpy little girl with bad temper tantrums,” says Tanya.

On top of this, Honor had trouble communicating. “She’d often ignore us when we called her,” says Tanya. “Her speech wasn’t good, she mispronounced things and missed off initial consonants and word-endings.” Honor had also fallen behind with other milestones like potty training and was becoming increasingly frustrated.

Tanya raised concerns about Honor’s hearing with her health visitor who did a basic hearing test. But it wasn’t subtle enough to pick up the mild loss. Then aged three, Honor had a particularly bad infection but their GP refused antibiotics. In desperation Tanya took her to a walk-in centre.

The nurse advised them to see an ENT consultant and gave them a letter for their GP. “At last” says Tanya “someone was taking our concerns seriously”. The consultant diagnosed glue ear and said her eardrums were in such a poor state that she’d not been hearing much at all.

Honor’s adenoids and tonsils were removed, she got a grommet in her right eardrum and had a myringotomy (a small incision made to relieve pressure) in her left one. “It was a huge relief,” says Tanya. “After surgery, her hearing was a little down but within ‘normal’ range”. Honor’s speech came on instantly and she began interacting with everyone. Her behaviour improved too.

By the time Honor started school aged four, her speech was at the same level as other pupils her age. Then following another ear infection Honor’s teacher told Tanya that Honor wasn’t learning at the same rate as her classmates. Honor’s consultant arranged for a Teacher of the Deaf, Kate, to assess her.

" a learning environment even a mild loss affects children hugely"

Honor, who has mild deafness, doing her homework.

“I showed Kate all the hearing tests,” says Tanya. “She said that with those results she’d normally give a child hearing aids. I was pretty upset. The audiologist had previously said it’d be really unusual for a child with those levels to be aided. But Kate saw it differently – in a learning environment even a mild loss affects children hugely”

That summer, Honor had a hearing aid fitted in her right ear. Back at school they really saw the difference. “That year she learnt to read,” says Tanya. “It was an emotional time; I’d doubted that she would.” Honor’s behaviour improved even more and now aged seven, though a year behind her age group, she’s making progress.

“It’s great to know she won’t struggle forever”

Socially too, things have improved. “Honor’s made friends at school,” says Tanya. “I did used to worry about that.” They also joined their local group. “Just meeting others with hearing aids made everything seem normal. I saw lots of kids with deafness who were succeeding in education, it gave me hope. It’s great to know she won’t struggle forever” Tanya adds. 

“I feel a bit of a fraud when people ask if she’s deaf and I say ‘well not really’. She is only mildly deaf but even so it has had a big effect. With mild deafness, others don’t realise they’re not hearing well. No one took her hearing loss seriously until she had a hearing aid.” 

Tips for teaching deaf children with a mild hearing loss

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