Hearing and Listening: Helping Your Child Accomplish Both

Henry_Krysty_1Today’s blog is written by Krystyann Krywko, who is a hearing loss educator and writer who provides resources and support for families who are raising children who are deaf or hard of hearing. You can read more of her work at www.kidswithhearingloss.org; or click here to receive a copy of her free mini eBook, Five Emotional Sticking Points of Parenting a Child with Hearing Loss.


“Did you hear me?” “Are you listening?” How many times a day do we say these words to our children? We use these terms interchangeably all the time to mean the same thing. On the surface, hearing and listening appear to be the same. They are both processes that we associate with the ears, but the differences stop there.

Hearing is a sense. It’s a passive activity – it’s simply the awareness of sound. In order to hear there is not much you need to do; and once you put your child’s hearing aids or processors on there is not much that they need to do either. They will have access to sound. To ensure that your child has continual access to hearing simply comes down to managing equipment properly.

  1. Make sure your child is up to date with their hearing tests. Young children should still be tested 3-4 times a year and older children at least once a year to make sure that there have been no major changes in their hearing loss.
  2. Equipment breaks, batteries fail. It’s important to make sure that equipment is properly maintained and checked. Have your child bec0me as involved as they can be in maintenance of their equipment so they are able to identify problems.
  3. Try to have at least one adult at your child’s school who is able to troubleshoot equipment – it could be the classroom teacher, teacher of the deaf (ToD), or the assistant principal, but having back up when you are not available is invaluable.


Listening, on the other hand, is part that takes work. Listening has to do with taking the sounds that you hear and making some sort of meaning. It’s a skill that needs to be learned and practiced, and for our children who are deaf and hard of hearing it can take a lot of extra work.

Carol Flexer, professor emeritus of Audiology at the University of Akron, describes it this way: “Listening is where hearing meets the brain.” There needs to be a conscious effort to engage with what you are hearing, so that your brain is able to process, and distinguish, between sounds, words, and sentences.


  1. What was that? Sound discrimination is when the brain is able to provide information about what is similar and what is different about a sound. Lois Kam Heymann, a speech-language pathologist based in NYC, believes that building strong discrimination skills in children who are deaf and hard of hearing is one of the most important focuses as children move through school. For example, if your child hears, “The boy loves his bad” when the teacher really said, “The boy loves his dad,” he knows that doesn’t make sense and will try to figure out what the teacher meant to say. Even if this only takes a few seconds, he has already missed the next part of what the teacher is saying and will fall further behind as he tries to listen.
  2. Fill those gaps. The more your child knows about their world the more background knowledge she will have to access. A knowledge gap begins to grow between those children who understand basic concepts and those who have not had prior exposure. Children who are deaf and hard of hearing tend to miss out on a significant amount of auditory information and background knowledge that is more readily available to children with typical hearing.
  3. Listen all the way through. It is not enough for a child who is deaf or hard of hearing to sort of listen to the teacher’s lesson, to take their eyes away from the teacher as they lean over to take notes, or to turn away and send a text message while their friend is talking to them. These are situations where your child is simply going to miss what is being said and he will have to ask the speaker to either clarify or to repeat themselves. And, while it will be difficult to avoid these situations completely, making your child aware of strategies that he can use, like keeping their eyes on the speaker or asking for a copy of the teacher’s notes prior to class, can help supplement the listening they need to do.

As children who are deaf or hard of hearing become more successful in the mainstream, hearing aids and cochlear implants can become confused with listening skills that are on par with their peers with typical hearing. In reality, though, the goal is not only about making sounds louder, but instead to improve understanding through better listening.



About Jane Madell

Jane Madell has a consulting practice in pediatric audiology. She is an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, and LSLS auditory verbal therapist, with a BA from Emerson College and an MA and PhD from the University of Wisconsin. Her 45+ years experience ranges from Deaf Nursery programs to positions at the League for the Hard of Hearing (Director), Long Island College Hospital, Downstate Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center/New York Eye and Ear Infirmary as director of the Hearing and Learning Center and Cochlear Implant Center. Jane has taught at the University of Tennessee, Columbia University, Downstate Medical School, and Albert Einstein Medical School, published 7 books, and written numerous books chapters and journal articles, and is a well known international lecturer.