Watching your sweet little baby for the first time - moving his/her tiny little hands and smiling at you is such a beautiful moment of happiness and pride. We know that you want the best for your child in every possible way. But do you know that a good life starts with good hearing? So before you come home with your newborn baby, there is one very important test to do (along with many others) - which is a hearing test, or newborn hearing screening.
Yes, there are good chances that your newborn can hear. But according to studies, out of 97% of newborns screened, fewer than 1% are diagnosed with permanent hearing loss. So there still might be a chance of your child born with some hearing problems - no matter how small the chance might be.
Why is Early Intervention Necessary?
From birth, one very important way by which a child learns is by listening and hearing. If a child is not given proper access to the hearing world, he or she won’t develop the speech, language and other communication skills. Although most infants are born without any hearing problems, yet 1 to 3 in every 1000 babies born in the United States is born with some kind of hearing problems.
The first 1-2 years of age is the most crucial period in a child’s life to learn and develop all the developmental skills - primarily with the help of hearing. In this period, the child’s learning capability attains its highest position, due to the presence of the maximum synaptic density or neural interconnections in the brain. The more these neural interconnections, the greater will be the child’s ability to learn new things.
Since synaptic density gradually starts reducing after 2-3 years of age and as he or she gets older, it’s extremely necessary that he or she must be given the opportunity to learn quite well in the first 2 years - and one very important way of doing so is to ensure that your child is having proper access to the hearing world. Early intervention and an early hearing loss treatment will bring a huge difference to the development of communication skills - especially speech and language.
According to professional Audiologists, the intervention should begin before your baby turns 6 months old. If your child receives well and proper access to the hearing world during this time, his or her spoken language development would be better.
Why do Newborns Need Hearing Screening?
The goal of newborn hearing screening is to ensure that all the babies who are born with hearing loss are identified as soon as possible so that their hearing loss treatment can be started immediately after. It is only through newborn hearing screening that you would get to know whether your child is suffering from any hearing problems. Sometimes you may think that your child has a normal hearing as he or she is responding to your calls or some sound-producing toys. But this doesn’t prove that your child is not suffering from any hearing problems - chances of a mild or moderate degree of hearing loss can still be there.
Therefore, without a newborn hearing screening, it is difficult to know the minor hearing changes in the child. Don’t ignore even if your child has mild hearing loss or if he or she misses out the less important sounds. Each and every hearing issue is important because every sound is food to the brain!
When Should I Go for Hearing Screening for My Newborn Child?
As early as right after your child’s birth. The best decision is to do your child’s hearing screening before taking him or her to home from the hospital where he or she was born. Your goal should be to get your child’s hearing screening done within 1 month of age, get your child’s hearing problems identified within 3 months of age, and if your child is diagnosed with a hearing loss, then start an intervention or hearing loss treatment programme within the first six months.
Nowadays, most well-known hospitals perform routine newborn hearing screenings before you leave the hospital and take your child to your home.
How is it Done?
There are a few tests performed in any newborn hearing screening programme that determine whether your child is able to hear well. A good hearing loss treatment programme starts only after identifying whether the individual is really having hearing loss, and if found with one, then what is its severity. And this should be done right after birth.
Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) - This test measures how sound waves are produced in your baby’s inner ears. In this test, a miniature microphone and earphone are placed inside your baby’s ears to measure his or her response to sounds played into the ear such as clicks or tones. If your baby has normal hearing, then the sounds would trigger an echo in the ear canal, which is then measured by the microphone placed inside it. If your child is born with any hearing problems, then this echo won’t be produced and hence the microphone wouldn’t record any.
Auditory brainstem response (ABR) - This test measures how the auditory nerve and the brain of your child respond to sound. Soft earphones are placed inside your baby’s ears and clicks or tones are played. Three small electrodes are placed on the baby’s head which test the response of the auditory nerve and the brain.
Both of the above screens are quick and takes about 5-10 minutes. Both of them are absolutely painless and can be done when your child is sleeping or laying down still. One or both the screening tests can be used to determine your child’s hearing abilities.
What if My Baby Doesn’t Pass the Screening Tests?
Even if your baby doesn’t pass the hearing screening test, then that doesn't necessarily mean that your child is deaf or hard of hearing. The results might be affected by excessive fluid buildup in the child’s ears, or due to excessive noise in the room where the test was performed. There are many cases in which the babies who don’t pass the hearing screening tests have quite normal hearing. But you need to be sure right? So for that you really need to go for further tests, so that you can start your child’s hearing loss treatment in case he or she is identified with a loss.
About 1 or 2 in every 100 babies born don’t pass hearing screening tests. So if your baby is one of them, then you need to consult a professional Audiologist who have good experience working with babies. This test should include a thorough hearing evaluation programme as well as medical evaluation. Make sure that you perform these additional tests as soon as possible and definitely before your baby turns 3 months old. However, it is not a good idea to wait that long.
If My Baby is Identified With Hearing Loss, What are the Treatment Options?
Today there are a host of advanced hearing loss treatment options which would provide a wonderful listening experience. However, which option to go for would depend on the type and degree of hearing loss of your baby. It would also depend on your preferences and choices that you think would be good for your baby. This would include lifestyle choices as well as the environment your baby is growing up in.
The various hearing loss treatment options and intervention services include the following -
Hearing aids - These are electronic devices which are worn in the ear. These devices, which come in a bundle of advanced features today and a number of shapes and sizes, amplify the sounds for you to help you hear better.
Cochlear implant - These are electronic devices which are surgically implanted to replace the damaged cochlea of the inner ear.
Language and communication - Speech and language therapy is very important to help a child learn and develop communication skills while using hearing devices.
Assistive listening devices - These are devices which enhance the child’s listening experience, like the microphone or telecoil.
There’s nothing to worry about if your kid is diagnosed with hearing loss. Your child is in the 21st century, which is radically changing in terms of a technological boom. With so many hearing loss treatment options available today, hearing loss will no more be a barrier in your child’s journey towards success.
Are you aware of any latest hearing loss treatment technology specially designed to enhance the hearing ability of children?
Do tell us in the comments if we missed out on any fact.