What unilateral hearing loss is, how it can affect a child, how to support a pupil with unilateral hearing loss.

What unilateral hearing loss is

Unilateral hearing loss means a hearing loss in one ear. This can range from mild to profound in the affected ear. 

How unilateral hearing loss can affect a child

When someone can hear well, their brain is able to: 

  • filter out unwanted background noise
  • concentrate on what they want to listen to

This is much harder for a child with unilateral deafness. 

In some situations, a child with unilateral hearing loss may have difficulty:

  • hearing sounds or speech in the normal ear coming from the side with the deafness, because the head naturally blocks some sound from that side (this is called the 'shadow effect')
  • identifying the source of sound or the direction a sound is coming from
  • judging the distance the sound is coming from
  • understanding speech when there is background noise

This can affect a child with unilateral deafness in different ways.

Incidental learning 

Incidental learning is learning that takes place in everyday settings, at home or out and about, and is not taught at school.

Incidental learning: 

  • helps children build vocabulary
  • gives children grammar and general knowledge

Children with unilateral hearing loss may not always hear what’s going on around them, especially when there’s background noise. They may need to be taught these language skills directly at school.

Tiredness and concentration fatigue

Children with unilateral hearing loss may have to spend more energy concentrating on listening. As a result, they may experience tiredness and frustration that affects their behaviour. 

Small adjustments to your environment and how you communicate can make listening much easier. 

Sometimes the child will wear a hearing aid on one side.

How to support pupils with unilateral hearing loss

Ways to support pupils with unilateral hearing loss include:

  • seating the child near the person speaking
  • reducing background noise as far as possible 
  • give more time for the child to process or respond to information
  • check discreetly that the child has heard and understood what’s been said
  • make sure keywords are explained at the start of every lesson: the child may not have the vocabulary you’d expect of a child of that age
  • indicate who’s talking, repeat back contributions from other class members

See also the National Deaf Children’s Society information for professionals.

Contact us
Sensory Support Service
Elmfield House
Greystoke Avenue
Westbury-on-Trym
BS10 6AY

Phone: 0117 903 8442
Text: 07810 506 669
Email: sensorysupportservice@bristol.gov.uk