Objective: This study was designed to determine the prevalence of minimal sensorineural hearing loss (MSHL) in school-age children and to assess the relationship of MSHL to educational performance and functional status.
Design: To determine prevalence, a single-staged sampling frame of all schools in the district was created for 3rd, 6th, and 9th grades. Schools were selected with probability proportional to size in each grade group. The final study sample was 1218 children. To assess the association of MSHL with educational performance, children identified with MSHL were assigned as cases into a subsequent case-control study. Scores of the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (4th Edition) (CTBS/4) then were compared between children with MSHL and children with normal hearing. School teachers completed the Screening Instrument for Targeting Education Risk (SIFTER) and the Revised Behavior Problem Checklist for a subsample of children with MSHL and their normally hearing counterparts. Finally, data on grade retention for a sample of children with MSHL were obtained from school records and compared with school district norm data. To assess the relationship between MSHL and functional status, test scores of all children with MSHL and all children with normal hearing in grades 6 and 9 were compared on the COOP Adolescent Chart Method (COOP), a screening tool for functional status.
Results: MSHL was exhibited by 5.4% of the study sample. The prevalence of all types of hearing impairment was 11.3%. Third grade children with MSHL exhibited significantly lower scores than normally hearing controls on a series of subtests of the CTBS/4; however, no differences were noted at the 6th and 9th grade levels. The SIFTER results revealed that children with MSHL scored poorer on the communication subtest than normal-hearing controls. Thirty-seven percent of the children with MSHL failed at least one grade. Finally, children with MSHL exhibited significantly greater dysfunction than children with normal hearing on several subtests of the COOP including behavior, energy, stress, social support, and self-esteem.
Conclusions: The prevalence of hearing loss in the schools almost doubles when children with MSHL are included. This large, education-based study shows clinically important associations between MSHL and school behavior and performance. Children with MSHL experienced more difficulty than normally hearing children on a series of educational and functional test measures. Although additional research is necessary, results suggest the need for audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and educators to evaluate carefully our identification and management approaches with this population. Better efforts to manage these children could result in meaningful improvement in their educational progress and psychosocial well-being.