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Spotting the Signs of Hearing & Language Disorders in Children

Founded by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and recognized by the CDC, May marks the observance of Better Hearing and Speech Month. This period serves as an opportune moment to heighten public awareness about communication disorders in children. It also empowers caregivers with essential knowledge to detect potential issues early on.

Children playing with blocks

Understanding Hearing & Language Disorders in Children

Every child develops at their own pace, but there are certain milestones they should reach in terms of hearing and language skills.

Hearing Disorders involve a decreased ability to hear sounds in the same way that people without hearing loss do. Hearing loss can be mild, moderate, severe, or profound, and it can vary across pitches. It can be present at birth or acquired at any time afterwards. It could be temporary or permanent, and it can exist in one or both ears.

Language Disorders are problems with communication and related areas such as oral motor function. These delays and disorders range from simple sound substitutions to the inability to understand or use one’s native language. A person with a language disorder may have problems with understanding, talking, reading, and writing.

Signs of Hearing Disorders

Children with hearing disorders may exhibit the following signs:

Age Range

Signs of Hearing Impairments

Birth - 3 Months

  • Doesn't startle at loud noises

  • Doesn't turn head towards sounds

  • Doesn't babble or coo

4-7 Months

  • Doesn't respond to familiar voices

  • Doesn't babble with different sounds

8-12 Months

  • Doesn't babble with a variety of sounds or in combination with gestures

12-18 Months

  • Doesn't say at least one or two words

18-24 Months

  • Has difficulty understanding simple speech

  • Says fewer than 10 words

2-3 Years

  • Frequently has to ask others to repeat themselves

  • Speaks unclearly

3-4 Years

  • Still has trouble understanding speech in noisy environments

  • Uses short, simple sentences

Signs of Language Disorders

There are two kinds of language disorders: receptive and expressive. Children often have both at the same time. A child with a receptive language disorder has trouble understanding words that they hear and read. A child with an expressive language disorder has trouble speaking with others and expressing thoughts and feelings.

  • Infants: Doesn't babble or use sounds like "ba" or "ga" by 7-12 months. Doesn't understand simple words like "no" or "bye" by 12 months.

  • Toddlers: Says fewer than 50 words by 18 months. Doesn't put two words together by 2 years old. Has trouble following simple instructions.

  • Preschoolers: Struggles to use pronouns like "me" and "you" correctly. Mispronounces many words. Has difficulty forming sentences.

It should be emphasized that this list is not comprehensive. If you have any concerns about your child's hearing or language development, it's always best to consult with a doctor or speech-language pathologist.

When to Seek Help

If you notice signs of hearing or language disorders in children, it's important to seek professional help. An audiologist or speech-language pathologist can assess your child's hearing and language skills and recommend appropriate interventions. Early intervention services, such as speech therapy or hearing aids, can make a significant difference in your child's development.


Center for Disease Control & Prevention (2023). What is Hearing Loss in Children? CDC.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Early Identification of Speech, Language, Swallowing, and Hearing Disorders. ASHA.

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (n.d.). Speech and Language Disorders. ASHA.


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Dr. David Eleff, Otolaryngologist/Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist at ENT Family in Hollywood, Florida.

This article has been medically reviewed by  otolaryngologist, David Eleff, M.D.

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