Hearing impairment in childhood is a serious disability that can impose a heavy social and economic burden on individuals and families. It was hypothesized that hearing loss or middle ear disease in 11-year-old Pacific children living in New Zealand would be associated with higher levels of engagement in (1) delinquent behaviors, and (2) clinical level internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors than Pacific children with no hearing loss or middle ear disease. Based on earlier findings, peer pressure, self-perception, physical punishment (slapping), sex, and ethnicity were controlled for in the association between hearing difficulties and behavioral outcomes.
In the school setting, pure-tone audiometry and immittance audiometry assessments were used to establish the hearing level in 11-year-old Pacific children (n = 920). These children also completed multidisciplinary questionnaires, which included questions about involvement in delinquent behaviors, peer pressure, and self-perception. In the home setting, maternal reports were gathered on internalizing and externalizing problem behaviors in their offspring, their parenting style, and sociodemographic details.
A significant effect of hearing level was detected for the odds of reporting mild delinquency versus no delinquency (odds ratio: 1.02, 95% CI: 1.00 to 1.05), and odds of moderate delinquency versus no delinquency (odds ratio: 0.97, 95% CI: 0.94 to 1.00). No significant effect was detected for hearing level and severe delinquency or internalizing or externalizing behavioral problems in the clinical range. Middle ear disease (abnormal tympanogram in the worse ear) was not significantly associated with delinquency at any level or with internalizing behaviors in the clinical range. However, children with middle ear disease were significantly less likely than all other participants to exhibit disruptive externalizing behavior in the clinical range.
Relatively young children with hearing loss reported engagement in moderate levels of delinquency that represent serious antisocial and potentially violent acts. This finding provides evidence of the significant effect that hearing loss has on child behavior. This association between hearing loss and moderate delinquency requires ethnic-specific interventions that are targeted for maximum benefit at appropriate times in childhood to mitigate potentially long-term health, educational, and behavioral risks.