If your kid is having trouble reading, you should get their hearing tested

A new study says many kids who struggle with reading have underlying hearing problems—even if they've been diagnosed with dyslexia.

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If your kiddo hates reading lessons and struggles with sounding out words, there could be a physiological explanation: a hearing problem. A new study from Coventry University in England found that 25 percent of kids who had trouble reading had mild to moderate hearing impairments that parents and teachers had never picked up on.

The study evaluated kids between the ages of eight and 10 on their reading and writing skills, and their use of word structures, then tested them a second time, 18 months later, and gave them a hearing test. Of 195 kids tested, 36 had dyslexia and nine of those children were found to have hearing problems that were not previously known about. The larger group of children also included 29 with a history of repeated ear infections (which are a common cause of hearing loss)—and a third of those kids had trouble reading and writing. Though both kids with dyslexia and those with a history of ear infections had problems with speech sounds, children with dyslexia were also likely to struggle with grammatical structure.

“A mild to moderate hearing loss will make the perception of speech sounds difficult, particularly in a classroom environment with background noise and other distractions,” says the report’s author, Helen Breadmore, a research fellow at Coventry University’s Faculty Research Centre for Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement. “Therefore, children who have suffered repeated ear infections and associated hearing problems have fluctuating access to different speech sounds precisely at the age when this information is crucial in the early stages of learning to read.”

The researchers behind the study concluded that kids who have reading difficulties should be screened for hearing problems so they don’t fall behind in school. Diagnosing a hearing problem can help teachers understand the specific challenges a child faces and allow them to better tailor lessons to the student.

The earlier you can diagnose hearing problems in kids the better, because the sense is key to all kinds of early learning and development that kids need to undergo. If you notice issues in school or see other signs of hearing loss, talk to your child’s paediatrician.

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