Aim: To investigate the association between hearing impairment (HI) and measures of early childhood development in Aboriginal children at age 5 years. Methods: An observational cohort study (n = 1037) of children aged 4.0–7.3 years (median 5.4 years), living in remote Northern Territory (NT) communities, was conducted using multiple linked administrative datasets, including the NT Perinatal Data Register, Remote Hearing Assessment records (2007–2015) and Australian Early Development Censuses (AEDC, 2009, 2012 and 2015). Outcome measures were summary and domain-specific AEDC results using both dichotomous and continuous variables (domain scores).
Results: Compared with normal hearing children, after adjustment for selected confounding factors, those with moderate or worse HI had an adjusted odds ratio of 1.69 (95% confidence interval (CI), 1.03–2.77) for being developmentally vulnerable in two or more of the five AEDC domains. Children with mild HI and those with moderate to worse HI had lower domain score sum by −1.60 (95% CI, −3.02 to −0.18) and − 2.40 (95% CI, −4.50 to −0.30), respectively. There was also evidence for an association between HI and poorer outcomes in the ‘language and cognitive skills’, ‘communication skills and general knowledge’ and ‘physical health and wellbeing’ domains.
Conclusions: Otitis media-related HI is associated with increased risk for poorer outcomes in early childhood development and this risk appears to increase with higher levels of HI. Prevention and early treatment of otitis media will reduce both the disease and the associated negative impact on early child development, especially the development of language, cognitive and communication skills and physical health and wellbeing.