Hearing impairment is one of the most common birth defects. Every year in the United States, 12,000 children are born with a hearing impairment, and 4,000 of them are deaf. The good news is that with early intervention, these children can achieve normal language development. Many people don't know that there are hearing aids and therapy for infants only weeks old; cochlear implants are possible once a child is 1. A University of Colorado study found that out of a group of 150 children with a hearing loss, children who were identified and fitted with hearing aids by 6 months of age had normal language development at age 3. In contrast, the language skills of kids whose hearing problem wasn't detected until after 6 months of age tested below normal at age 3.
You might assume that your doctor is evaluating your baby's hearing at well-baby visits. But while he's checking for signs of fluid and infection, he's not formally testing your child's hearing. Fortunately, thanks to recent technological advances and a greater awareness of the importance of early detection, hearing-screening programs for newborns are starting up in more and more hospitals across the country, making early diagnosis of any problem almost routine. One study showed that when babies were screened as newborns, hearing loss was identified at about 2 months of age instead of the current average, 2.5 years. The screenings involve two simple, painless tests that can be done while the child is sleeping.
Ask your pediatrician if your child's hearing was screened at birth; if it wasn't, find out about scheduling a test. Early assessment is especially important if any member of your family has a hearing problem or if your baby was premature or very ill as a newborn.
To find out if your state performs newborn hearing-screenings, visit www.hearinghealth.net.