Child With Hearing Impairment Case Study


My name is Roberto and I am a premedical student majoring in biology. I have a severe-to-profound bilateral hearing loss and use hearing aids and speech reading (watching the movement of a person's lips) to maximize my communication skills. I have some knowledge of American Sign Language but not enough to effectively use a sign language interpreter as an accommodation.

Access Issues

My biology courses, as well as many other courses in science and mathematics, involve intensive lectures; some have interactive discussion sessions, and all of them make extensive use of advanced technical terms. Many of these terms are difficult to hear with hearing aids or to lip-read. I tried to use an FM amplification system (which through a microphone and transmitter worn by the instructor sends his or her words directly to my hearing aid) in these classes, but it was not helpful because of the nature of my hearing loss. If I miss information because of my hearing impairment, then I can't follow the lecture or adequately participate in discussion and ask questions. Note taking provides limited assistance since the notes are not verbatim, I can only review them after the class session, and sometimes the notes are available only one or two days after the class session. Note-taking assistance and front-row seating are adequate for me in nonscience and nonmathematics courses. Because the pace of instruction in science and mathematics is fast and the volume of material covered in each session is large, it is important that I have an adequate means to access the course lecture and discussion as it happens.


I contacted the office of disability services and requested the provision of real-time captioning in my science and mathematics classes. I told the counselor that I had tried various accommodations like note taking and the FM system but that I was still having difficulty with the lectures. The deaf services counselor reviewed my request and then approved it.

Real-time captioning as an accommodation involves having someone with adequate stenography training (often a court reporter) come to the class with me. The stenographer has a steno machine and laptop that is loaded with stenography software, and he or she sits next to me so I can see the monitor. When the instructor talks or others participate in class discussion, the stenographer enters all spoken words. The words spoken then appear very quickly on the monitor, and I can follow the discussion, ask questions, and, after class, get a hard copy of the notes. Alternatively, the office of disability services arranges for a stenographer at a remote site to provide the same service; in this situation, the instructor wears a wireless microphone that transmits the voice back over the same phone line that is used to instantly send back the real-time captions to the student with a laptop in the classroom. This alternative procedure is used when there is a shortage of qualified stenographers, there are scheduling difficulties, or it is the most cost-effective method to provide the accommodation.


This case study demonstrates the following:

  1. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may have differing accommodation needs, and the accommodations may not be the same in all courses for the same student.
  2. Accommodation procedures and alternatives must be in place, or there must be a capacity to quickly make arrangements to implement the accommodation.
  3. There are advanced technical accommodations, such as real-time captioning, that may be available anywhere in the country when students and support staff are aware of the resources.
  4. Students who are deaf or hard of hearing and those with other sensory disabilities can compete in scientific and technical fields and careers.

Case Study | Pediatrics | January 2015 Hearing Review 

A reminder of what our tests really say about the auditory system.

By Michael Zagarella, AuD

How many times have I heard— and said myself—that the OAE is not a hearing test? How many times have I thought to myself that, just because a child passes their newborn hearing screening test, it does not mean they have normal hearing? This case brought those two statements front and center.

A 5-year-old boy was referred to me for a hearing test because he did not pass a kindergarten screening test in his right ear. His parents reported that he said “Huh?” frequently, and more recently they noticed him turning his head when spoken to. He had passed his newborn hearing screening, and he had experienced a few ear infections that responded well to antibiotics. The parents mentioned a maternal aunt who is “nearly totally deaf” and wears binaural hearing aids.

Initial Test Results

Otoscopic examination showed a clear ear canal and a normal-appearing tympanic membrane on the right side. The left ear canal contained non-occluding wax.

Tympanograms were within normal limits bilaterally. Unfortunately, otoacoustic emissions (OAE) testing could not be completed because of an equipment malfunction.

Behavioral testing with SRTs was taken, and I typically start with the right ear. The child seemed bright and cooperative enough for routine testing. I obtained no response until 80 dB.

I switched to the left ear and he responded appropriately. This prompted me to walk into the test booth and check the equipment and wires; everything was plugged in and looked normal. I tried SRTs again with the same results, even reversing the earphones. Same results. When the behavioral tests were completed, the results indicated normal hearing in his left ear and a profound hearing loss in his right ear.

The child’s parents were informed of these results, and we scheduled him to return for a retest in order to confirm these findings.

Follow-up Test

One week later, the boy returned for a follow-up test. The otoscopic exam was the same: RE = normal; LE = non-occluding wax.

Tympanograms were within normal limits. I added acoustic reflexes, which were normal in his left ear (80-90 dB), and questionable in his right ear (105-115 dB).

DPOAEs were present in both ears. The right ear was reduced in amplitude compared with the left, but not what I would expect to see with a profound hearing loss (Figure 1).

I repeated the behavioral tests with the same results that I obtained the first time (Figure 2). Bone conduction scores were not obtained at this time because I felt I was reaching the limits of a 5-year-old, and the tympanograms were normal on two occasions.

Recommendation to Parents

After completing the tests, I explained auditory dyssynchrony to the parents, and told them that this is what their son appeared to have. Since they were people with resources, I advised them to make an appointment at Johns Hopkins to have this diagnosis confirmed by ABR.

Johns Hopkins Results

The initial appointment at Johns Hopkins was at the ENT clinic. According to the report from the parents, the physician reviewed my test results and said it was unlikely that they were valid. She suggested they repeat the entire test battery before proceeding with an ABR. All peripheral tests were repeated with exactly the same results that I had obtained. The ABR was scheduled and performed, yielding:

“Findings are consistent with normal hearing sensitivity in the left ear and a neural hearing loss in the right ear consistent with auditory dyssynchrony (auditory neuropathy). The normal hearing in the left ear is adequate for speech and language development at this time.”

Additional Follow-up

The boy’s mother was not completely satisfied with the diagnosis or explanation. After she arrived home and mulled things over, she called Johns Hopkins and asked if they could do an MRI. The ENT assured her that it probably would not show anything, but if it would allay her concerns (and since they had good insurance coverage), they would schedule the MRI.

Figure 1. DPOAEs of 5-year-old boy.

Findings of MRI. Evaluation of the right inner ear structures demonstrated absence of the right cochlear nerve. The vestibular nerve is present but is small in caliber. The internal auditory canal is somewhat small in diameter. There is atresia versus severe stenosis of the cochlear nerve canal. The right modiolus is thickened. The cochlea has the normal amount of turns, and the vestibule semicircular canals appear normal.

The left inner ear structures, cranial nerves VII and VIII complex, and internal auditory canal are normal. Additional normal findings were also presented regarding sinuses, etc.

Key finding: The results were consistent with atresia versus severe stenosis of the right cochlear nerve canal and cochlear nerve and deficiency described above.

The Value of Relearning in Everyday Clinical Practice

Figure 2. Follow-up behavioral test of 5-year-old boy.

According to the MRI, the cochlea on the right side is normal—which would explain the present DPOAE results. The cochlear branch of the VIIIth Cranial Nerve is completely absent, which would explain the absent ABR result and the profound hearing loss by behavioral testing.

This case has certainly caused me to re-evaluate what I think and say about my test findings. How many times have I heard—and said myself!—that the OAE is not a hearing test? How many times have I thought to myself that, just because a child passes their newborn hear- ing screening test, it does not mean that they have normal hearing?

This case has surely brought those two statements front and center. In addition, what about auditory neuropathy? In about 40 years of testing, I had never seen a case that I was convinced was AN. Naturally, I was somewhat skeptical about this disorder: Is it real, or does it reside in the realm of the Yeti. (Personal note to Dr Chuck Berlin: I truly don’t doubt you, but I do like to see things for myself!)

Finally, this case only reinforces my trust in “mother’s intuition” and the value of deferring to the sensible requests of parents. If she had not felt uneasy about what she had been told at one of the most prestigious clinics in the country, the actual source of this problem would not have been discovered.

So what? Does any of this really make a difference? The bottom line is we have a 5-year-old boy with a unilateral profound hearing loss. How important is it that we know why he has that loss? From a purely clinical standpoint, I think that it is poignant because it brings home the importance of understanding what our tests really say about the hearing mechanism and auditory system (ie, is working or not working?).

And although it may not make a large difference in the boy’s current treatment plan, I do know that the boy’s mother is grateful for understanding the reason for her son’s hearing loss and that it’s at least possible the boy may benefit from this knowledge in the future.

Michael Zagarella, AuD, is an audiologist at RESA 8 Audiology Clinic in Martinsburg, WVa.

Correspondence can be addressed to HR or or Dr Zagarella at:

Citation for this article: Zagarella M. Case study of a 5-year-old boy with unilateral hearing loss. Hearing Review. 2015;22(1):30-33.





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