Hearing & Communication

Hearing & Communication

Hearing is a critical part of a child's communication development so it's important to identify any loss as early as possible.


Key points to remember about hearing and communication

  • hearing is a critical part of a child's communication development
  • any degree of hearing loss can make learning to speak more difficult

Why is hearing important for my child's communication development?

Hearing is a critical part of a child's communication development. Even a mild or fluctuating hearing loss can affect a child's communication development so it's important to identify any loss as early as possible.

What are the different types of hearing loss?

There are 2 main types of hearing loss:

  • temporary (conductive)
  • permanent (sensori-neural)

Temporary hearing loss 

Temporary hearing loss can mean that the child is able to hear well one day but not the next. This is sometimes referred to as fluctuating hearing loss, which can be difficult to identify. People may talk about the child having 'middle ear' problems, fluid in their ear or sometimes glue ear. 

See the KidsHealth page on ear infections for more information

See the KidsHealth page on glue ear for more information 

Permanent hearing loss 

Permanent hearing loss may be in one or both ears and can be different in each ear.

Any type or degree of hearing loss can make learning to talk more difficult.

What are the different signs of hearing difficulties?

Signs of hearing difficulties include:

  • not always noticing everyday sounds
  • needing to have volumes louder than you'd expect
  • taking longer to learn to talk
  • often asking others to repeat themselves
  • unfocused attention
  • difficulty waiting for and taking turns
  • staring at people's mouths when they talk
  • speaking very loudly

Who should I talk to if I am concerned about my child's hearing?

If you have any concerns about your child's hearing, you should talk to your child's doctor who may refer them for a hearing test.

What's involved in a hearing test?

All babies in Aotearoa, New Zealand, have a hearing test soon after they are born.

Tamariki (children) will be offered a hearing check on several occasions before they start school, by nurses employed to do Well Child checks. When tamariki turn 4, they will be offered a hearing test as part of their B4 School Check. If there are concerns, they will be referred to an audiologist, a specialist in hearing loss, for further hearing testing. 

Audiologists mainly work in hospitals and community-based clinics. They make the experience as easy as possible for tamariki and are skilled in testing young children's hearing from birth.

It may be necessary for tamariki to get their hearing tested a few times, as it can be difficult to pick up a hearing loss with the first test.

See the KidsHealth section on hearing, vision and newborn screening for more information 

How can I support my child with hearing loss?

The following are general strategies for all children with hearing loss but mainly focus on those using spoken language.

Get your child’s attention 

Gain your child's attention before speaking to them; for example, say their name before speaking.

Reduce background noise 

Try to keep background noise down when talking to them; for example, turn the TV volume down.
When speaking, use a clear, everyday voice. Try not to speak too loudly as this distorts the sound.

Double-check they understand  

Check that your child understands any instructions by asking a question that doesn’t require a yes or no response. You could ask "What will you do now?" rather than "Did you hear me?" or "Do you understand?".

Speak face-to-face 

Make sure your child can see your face when you are talking to them so that they can hear your voice more clearly and see your facial expressions. Try not to exaggerate your facial expressions or lip patterns.

Be aware of anything that can make it difficult for them to see your face, such as lighting or shadows, hands and books.

Sit close to others when talking 

At the early childhood education centre, encourage the child to sit close to the person speaking; for example, if the teacher is reading a story, then the child should be seated close to them.

Graphic of a mother reading to her child

Are there any other supports available? 

Depending on the degree of hearing loss your child has, there may be a range of supports available, including access to New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) for those with permanent hearing loss.


If you would like to look at anything in more detail, this list of references might be a good starting point.


The content on this page has been produced in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and adapted from Much more than words | Manuka takoto, kawea ake (2014) (PDF, 565KB).

This page last reviewed 08 December 2023.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it