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Functional Listening Skills – Why and how do we monitor these?

Functional Listening Skills – Why and how do we monitor these?

Ingrid Steyns
Tom HIbbert

When children with hearing loss are developing listening and spoken communication skills, their functional listening skills require close monitoring; this helps to ensure that progress is occurring with the child’s auditory development in a meaningful way, and that they are receiving consistent access to sound to allow for this to happen. 

Spoken communication development relies on a child’s listening and auditory skills alongside exposure to meaningful linguistic experiences in their day-to-day lives. A child with hearing loss, at any age, is at risk of compromised auditory input. This in turn has an impact on their ability to access and listen to information that is spoken, which decreases their linguistic experience and the development of their communication skills (Sininger et al., 2010).  

For a child to fully benefit from learning through spoken interactions and hearing spoken information around them, they need consistent optimal access to hearing the full range of sound across the speech spectrum – that is, being able to hear and process all of the sounds that formulate speech – and use these in a meaningful way. For some children with hearing loss, access to sound is supported by hearing technology, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants or bone conduction hearing devices. The type of hearing technology used by a child to provide them with optimal access to sound will depend on their hearing loss diagnosis and on other information that gives insight into their progress, including their ability to hear and meaningfully use sounds around them – this is referred to as functional listening skills. 

What are functional listening skills?

Functional listening skills describes the set of skills that a person employs to listen to, process and use sounds that they have heard. For a child with hearing loss, the way they detect, use and process linguistic input in their everyday settings is critical to understanding how they will develop oral language (Davis, 2022).  

Children engage with sound in multiple ways in spoken communication interactions in their day-to-day lives, and how they use these to understand, respond and function is important when determining their communication development and progress.

Learning to listen occurs from infancy, and close tracking and monitoring of functional listening skills provides information on developmental progress in this area from early ages.

Functional use of listening skills impacts upon the developmental pathway for listening, and a child’s outcomes are impacted by their access to and the richness of the stimulation they receive in their everyday experiences of language, across both quantity and diversity (Arora et al., 2020).  

For a child with hearing loss, individualised support and timely decision making are critical for optimal outcomes in listening and spoken communication development. When functional listening skills are closely monitored, intervention needs can be identified in a child’s early and critical developmental years, and responsive goal planning to support positive progress that is tailored to the individual child can occur.  

How do we monitor and track functional listening skills?

The Functional Listening Index-Paediatric® (FLI-P®) is a research based tool that can measure the acquisition of a child’s listening skills over time. The tool can be used by hearing healthcare professionals and educators alongside parents and caregivers, allowing for collaborative input when evaluating listening skills across multiple environments of a child’s day-to-day life, and informing all involved of a child’s progress and listening development needs.  

The FLI-P ® is made up of a 64 item questionnaire grouped into six phases across early listening to advanced listening skills from birth to six years. With information gained from regular use of the FLI-P®, clinicians, educators and parents are empowered to better understand a child’s individual listening skill trajectory and make informed decisions based on progress demonstrated by the child in their day-to-day functioning. With this information, children with hearing loss developing listening and spoken communication skills are able to receive support that is targeted and individualised to their needs.  

Find out more about the FLI-P® here: Functional Listening Index-Paediatric (FLI-P®)  – Hearhub 

Download the FLI-P® here: FLI-P® – Hearhub 

Arora, S., Smolen, E. R., Wang, Y., Hartman, M., Howerton-Fox, A., & Rufsvold, R. (2020). Language environments and spoken language development of children with hearing loss. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education25(4), 457-468.  

Davis, A. C. (2022). Improving communication outcomes for children with hearing loss in their early years: tracking progress and guiding intervention (Doctoral dissertation, Macquarie University).  

Sininger, Y. S., Grimes, A., & Christensen, E. (2010). Auditory development in early amplified children: Factors influencing auditory-based communication outcomes in children with hearing loss. Ear and hearing31(2), 166-185. 

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