As Speech-Language Pathologists, we are often asked about the impact that ear infections have on a child’s speech and language development. Research has shown that ear infections can impact a child’s speech and language development in various ways, especially if the ear infections are frequent, recurrent and longer lasting in duration. Imagine trying to listen to someone speak while under water – the sounds are muffled, faint and difficult to hear. That is somewhat similar to how children hear during an ear infection. These infections can cause mild to moderate temporary hearing loss while the fluid accumulates in the ear canal. It is therefore not surprising that frequent and recurrent ear infections may have a negative impact on a child’s speech and language. Some children with frequent ear infections have a difficult time hearing and producing certain speech sounds such as /s/ or using grammatical markers such as “ed” or plural “s”.
So what are the signs of an ear infection?
A child may experience the following:
- Pulling on the ear or telling you that his ear hurts
- Drainage from the ear
- Difficulty sleeping
How can I help my child to listen and speak?
- Get your child’s attention before speaking to her.
- Get down to your child’s level by sitting or kneeling to encourage good listening and
watching your mouth as you speak.
- Speak slowly and clearly.
- Emphasize important words by making them just a little bit louder. Repeat these important
- Decrease distractions and limit background noise.
What should I do if I am concerned about ear infections and my child’s speech and language development?
It’s a good idea to speak with your pediatrician or a Speech-Language Pathologist if you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, and your child experiences frequent and recurrent ear infections. You may wish to have your child’s hearing tested by an Audiologist to investigate your child’s hearing status.
Bluestone, C. , & Klein, J. (2001). Otitis media in infants and young children (3rd. ed.). Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Co.
Gravel, J., & Hunter, L. (1999). Otitis media and hearing loss. Seminars in Otitis Media, 2, 3–10.
Roberts, J. & Hunter, L. (2002, October 08). Otitis Media and Children’s Language and Learning. The ASHA Leader.