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Your Child Today: Preschool

Why Isn't He Listening?

Susan was frustrated. She?d called 4-year-old Evan to the table three times now and he continued to play upstairs with his Legos. And when she?d asked him to put away his basketball, he completely ignored her, leaving the ball outside in the driveway.

Even Evan?s preschool teacher had noticed, telling Susan that Evan didn?t seem to be paying attention in class.

Although such behavior may seem to be deliberate disobedience, Evan might not be misbehaving at all. He might be having trouble hearing.

Every year, more than 25 million children in the United States are diagnosed with ear infections. Although most ear infections clear up without causing permanent problems, they can cause slight hearing loss or other damage if they occur often or go untreated.

During and after an ear infection, a child may have trouble hearing. Because ear infections are not always accompanied by other symptoms, minor hearing loss may be the only sign that your child has had an infection. Watch for the following changes in behavior to determine if he or she is struggling to hear:

  1. talking softly or in a muffled way
  2. saying "what?" or "huh?" more than usual
  3. not responding to sounds or requests
  4. turning the television volume up louder than usual

It?s important that parents be on the lookout for signs of ear infection and subsequent hearing loss. Being able to hear and listen to others talk helps a child learn speech and language. This is especially important during the first three or four years of life. At this developmental stage, your child is adding to her vocabulary and learning new uses for words every day. For preschoolers in particular, learning the correct sounds and combinations of sounds is crucial to future reading and writing abilities.

If your child is talking normally and responding quickly when you speak to her, you probably have no cause for concern. But if you think your child may not be hearing normally, talk to your pediatrician about a hearing test. An audiologist can check to see if there is hearing loss and how severe it might be. Your doctor also may recommend that you see a speech and language pathologist who can determine how your child is progressing with verbalization and vocabulary.

Although ear infections are frustrating and seemingly never-ending, there is hope. Antibiotics like amoxicillin are effective and pose few side effects. For children who struggle with recurring infections, extra doses of medication may be in order.

In this situation, your doctor may also recommend ear tubes. During a brief surgical procedure, a doctor implants a small tube into the eardrum. The tube allows air and fluid to flow from the middle ear, making it possible for your child to hear clearly again.

Your preschooler is on the brink of entering a whole new world. Soon he will be in school, learning to connect sounds and letters to form words. Your job is to make sure he hears those sounds.

?Sharon Bahrych
Physician assistant, speaker and medical writer

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