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April 5, 2003

Hearing tests helping infants

From: San Antonio Express, TX - Apr 5, 2003

By Cindy Tumiel
San Antonio Express-News

Two babies are born every day in Texas with significant hearing losses that could have a lifelong impact on their ability to speak, read and learn.

But a statewide newborn screening program is helping parents spot hearing-impaired babies when they are just hours old, and educators say the early detection is paying benefits for these youngsters.

Research shows that babies whose hearing impairments are detected and corrected before the age of 6 months will have better speech and a better vocabulary by age 3 than those whose hearing problems were detected later.

Other studies are showing that auditory stimulation is a key element in the crucial brain development that takes place in the first months of life, said Jacque Patton, chairwoman of audiology at the Sunshine Cottage, a San Antonio school for hearing-impaired children.

Sounds stimulate the brain and help infants develop neural pathways they will use the rest of their lives, Patton said during a session at the American Academy of Audiology meeting in San Antonio.

"If the auditory centers don't develop, they will have significant problems as they get older," she said.

About 7,000 hearing specialists and educators are in town for the convention, which ends today.

Texas is one of 37 states that requires hospitals to screen newborns for hearing problems. The program was implemented in 2000.

Texas is now one of the top-performing states in the nation, screening 96 percent of the babies born each year, said Elizabeth Thorp, director of a national screening campaign for the Deafness Research Foundation. But federal funds to continue programs are in jeopardy, she said.

"Texas is doing very well, but if no federal dollars are distributed to the states, we could see the percentage of children screened go down," Thorp said.

Because of early screening, Sunshine Cottage has about a dozen children who got hearing aids as infants and started getting therapy within weeks of their birth. Some are now almost 3 years old and speak as well as children without hearing problems, Patton said.

"We are definitely seeing results from identifying the children early," she said. "They are progressing faster. Some of them are on the same level as their hearing peers."

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