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July 17, 2003

Hearing Screening

From: ScienCentral News - Jul 17, 2003

As many as one in one thousand babies born completely deaf every year. Another two or three per thousand have some hearing loss. As this ScienCentral News video reports, one researcher is calling for hearing screenings for newborns because the earlier hearing loss is discovered, the better.

Catch It Early

When two-year-old Charlie Knott was born with severe hearing loss, it was not something his parents anticipated before his birth.

"We were really shocked," says his mother, Rebecca Knott. "Because out of all the things you worry about with a child, hearing wasn't the one we were thinking about."

Charlie's hearing loss was discovered in a hearing screening he had as a newborn. "We were very happy that we found out that early because we could then start relating to him in a way that was effective and meaningful to start that bonding process," says Knott.

Thanks to the early detection, Charlie can speak and communicate as well as other kids his age, with the help of hearing aids and sign language. That's because he was diagnosed well within what Christine Yoshinaga-Itano , chair of the Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, calls the "sensitive period."

A hearing aid helps Charlie tune in to his mother's every word. "The sensitive period that we talk about in our research has to do with the period of time in the child's life when they're most receptive to establishing a really strong foundation for language development," says Yoshinaga-Itano.

The sensitive period lasts up until about the age of five, and there are two distinct categories within the period: children identified with hearing loss between birth and six months of age, and those identified after seven months of age. If a child is diagnosed by the time he's six months old, he can develop language skills at the same rate as a child with normal hearing.

"It's as if, when the child is delayed in language development, they're chasing after a racing train that gets faster and faster as time goes on,” explains Yoshinaga-Itano. "So, the longer it takes to identify the hearing loss, the further behind, the faster they're going to have to run if they're going to catch up."

Only about half of U.S. states require testing newborns for hearing loss. Because children do better the earlier they are diagnosed, Yoshinaga-Itano argues for more screening. "It’s within 24 or 48 hours after birth that we're able to screen them for their hearing, and this test allows us now to be able to diagnose hearing loss within the first couple of months of life," she says.

Screening is also important because sometimes parents can't recognize hearing loss in their babies. "When you look at a child who can't hear, they look like another child, and they actually coo back at you, and they look as if they're responding to the sounds of their environment," says Yoshinaga-Itano. "So it's very, very difficult for parents to tell even when their children can't hear anything."

"The most important thing I learned from all the wonderful people we met once we found out [Charlie] had a severe hearing loss was that there are a lot of options out there and to give your child all of them," says Knott. "Don't close any doors. Just do everything. It was important to use this crucial language window and the hearing aids on him early on. I do think that it’s important to give them everything so they can make choices and they can move from both worlds."

Yoshinaga-Itano's research was presented at the 2003 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Conference. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health , the Office of Education, Maternal and Child Health , the Colorado State Departments of Education and Public Health and Administration , the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , and the University of Colorado.

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