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Childhood deafness in developing countries

Photo: A deaf child at school with a teacher at a blackboard

Deaf children and young people growing up in developing countries experience many challenges that must be addressed to support their inclusion.

In developing countries, deaf children and deaf young people face additional challenges such as late diagnosis, difficulties accessing quality education, stigma and discrimination. Most deaf children in low resource settings have little or no language when they start primary school.

More than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents with little or no experience of deafness or knowledge of how to communicate with a deaf person.

The majority of deaf children cannot read or write because they have considerably reduced access to their native language during the first few years which delays the learning process.

Without the right support, deaf children and young people are vulnerable to isolation, abuse, bullying, poor self-esteem and low levels of achievement. Deaf children are more than twice as likely to be abused as other children.

Deaf young women and girls often face the most acute challenges as their education is seen as an even lower priority than that of hearing girls or deaf boys. They are at a greater risk of child marriage, sexual exploitation and the negative impacts of a lack of sexual and reproductive health education.

About deafness

Deafness and hearing problems are different for each individual and no deaf child is the same. The way deafness affects a child depends on a range of different factors, including:

  • what type of hearing loss they have
  • what caused their hearing loss
  • how old they were when they were diagnosed with hearing loss
  • the level of hearing loss they have
  • whether the hearing loss is in one or both ears
  • the way they prefer to communicate
  • the level of communication skills they have.

Signs of deafness

It's important to spot hearing loss as soon as possible. The sooner a child is identified as having hearing loss, the sooner they can be supported to develop language communication skills.

Some signs that could indicate a baby is deaf include if they don't respond to sounds, music or voices or react to loud sounds.

Other signs that could indicate a child is deaf are if they:

  • strain to hear
  • appear very watchful
  • misunderstand things you say
  • withdraw from social situations
  • ask you to repeat things
  • use sign language.

Read more information for professionals on recognising the signs of hearing loss on the National Deaf Children's Society website.

Causes of deafness

There are many reasons why a child can be born deaf or become deaf in early life.

Many children are born deaf because of a genetic reason. Deafness can also be caused by complications during pregnancy. Being born prematurely can increase the risk of being born deaf or becoming deaf. Infections as a child, such as meningitis, measles and mumps can lead to deafness. Occasionally, deafness can be caused by an injury to the head or exposure to loud noises that damage the hearing system.

Learn more about the causes of deafness or types of deafness on the National Deaf Children's Society website.

Challenges deaf children and young people face in developing countries

Early identification

Deafness often remains undiagnosed in children until they are older. This has implications for the development of their language and communication skills. Early detection of deafness is vital for deaf children to develop the language and communication skills needed to be fully included in all aspects of life.

Isolation

Deaf children and young people often feel cut off from society and don’t understand their rights or how to access them. In many cases, a lack of accessible hearing assistive technology and trained sign language professionals makes it challenging to develop language and communication skills.

Stigma

Deaf children are often hidden away and excluded from family and community life which will impede their development. It is important to raise awareness of deafness in local communities so that deaf people can participate fully in society.

Education

Deaf children are less likely than their hearing counterparts to go to school or complete their education and this will have an impact on their future aspirations.

It is important that deaf children are supported to access quality education so they have the opportunity to achieve. Deafness is not a learning disability. There is no reason why the majority of deaf children should achieve any less than hearing children.

More information

Find out more about childhood deafness on the National Deaf Children’s Society website. You can read information about first diagnosis, causes of deafness, technology for deaf children and young people and support for parents and families.