Is your toddler just not listening, or does she really have a hearing problem? Is she ignoring you, or not hearing you? How can you tell? You’re right to be concerned; hearing problems can lead to speech issues and social difficulties. Here are some tips and ideas for how to spot signs of an actual hearing problem in your toddler, depending on age.
1. From 12 to 18 months, toddlers with normal hearing usually respond to music, familiar names, and simple commands (“stop that” or “come here.”). Toddlers this age also babble, can identify parts of their body when you name the part (“where’s your belly?”), and they will look up or turn their heads in response to a sound. Note your toddler’s behavior and see if he is responding to these types of auditory stimulation.
2. Between 18 and 24 months, your toddler might have a hearing problem if she does not respond verbally when you ask her something, or doesn’t respond when you read books aloud. Since speech and hearing are connected, watch toddlers this age for vocabulary – if their hearing is normal, they will probably say five or more words by this time, and can identify objects verbally (“puppy” or “mama”).
3. Over the age of 2 and before the age of 3, hearing problems may manifest as an inability to form multi-word sentences (even just two words), and your toddler may exhibit a lack of interest in hearing stories. Directional verbs like “stop” or “run” may not appear to register with him, and he may fail to respond to questions like “Who is that?”
4. As your toddler approaches the age of 3, a hearing problem might present as simply an inability to understand words spoken to her, and she will probably not have enough command of the language to use words effectively herself. She may fail to understand specific words or concepts, such as plural nouns and/or words that refer to size or possession (“mine”). She may not seem curious as she neglects to ask “why” like many toddlers that age.
These are just some of the warning signs and are certainly not cause for alarm in and of themselves. But if some of the above sounds familiar, it wouldn’t hurt to check with your pediatrician. He or she can refer you to a specialist who can perform some simple tests to determine if your toddler has a hearing problem.