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December 1, 2002

Free hearing tests for newborn babies

From: Sydney Morning Herald, Australia
Dec. 1, 2002

By Kate Cox
December 1 2002
The Sun-Herald

Every baby born in NSW will be offered a free hearing test under a scheme to be launched by the State Government today.

It will cost $8million a year to test an estimated 88,000 babies within days of their birth in large public hospitals across the State. Babies born in private hospitals can access the service as outpatients.

The universal screening test - the first of its kind in Australia - will ensure that the estimated 350 hearing-impaired babies born every year can be treated immediately.

On Friday, a positively clucky Premier Bob Carr chatted with Susan Turner-Kapsanis and her 22-month-old triplets Alexander, Christopher and Nicholas.

Being selected for the pilot program at the Royal Women's Hospital last year meant that Alex's profound deafness was detected only one month after birth.

The average detection age is now 18 months and about one in every 300 newborn babies has significant hearing loss.

Alex was fitted with the latest model hearing aid a week later, ensuring that speech therapy is not required and he can develop at the same pace as his brothers. His level of deafness is now categorised as mild to moderate.

Amazingly, Mrs Turner-Kapsanis found she was partially deaf at the same time, and she now wears a hearing aid.

Learning about Alex's deafness was a "terrible shock", she said, even though he had a monotonous cry and did not seem as alert as his brothers.

"It's not easy to be told that your child has any sort of disability," she said. "We had no idea."

Some of her friends seeking hearing tests had been turned away by doctors.

"Unfortunately there's a tendency among GPs and pediatricians to not really understand that children need to be diagnosed early," she said.

"But the children that aren't diagnosed have to work that much harder."

Hearing-impaired babies will also receive free hearing aids, developmental programs and, if necessary, cochlear implants.

Health Minister Craig Knowles predicted other States would copy the initiative.

"Instead of picking up the child's hearing problems at two or three or four years old, you're picking it up literally within hours and days of their birth and that exponentially improves the life of the children," he said.

"You can't be other than profoundly affected to see a child hear for the first time because of cochlear implants, and then see parents able to communicate with their child for the first time."

Copyright © 2002. The Sydney Morning Herald.