Experts estimate more than 24,000 children are born in the United States every year with some type of hearing loss. Genetics plays a role in 50 to 60 percent of these cases. Another 30 percent of hearing-impaired children are born with hearing loss as a result of complications after birth or an infection the mother developed during pregnancy.
While discovering this news can be disturbing for parents, it’s important to know children whose hearing impairment was detected early stand a better chance of developing good social, language and communication skills. Fortunately, advances in research, government regulations and medical technology make it easier for parents to get the best care for their hearing-impaired child today than they could 20 years ago.
Hearing Screenings. Because one to three babies of every 1,000 will be born with permanent hearing loss, most healthcare systems screen newborns before they leave the hospital.
Hospitals often use one of two universally accepted screening tests for infants. The Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) test uses a tiny microphone and earphone to measure sound echoes in the baby’s ear canal. The Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) uses electrodes placed on the baby’s head to measure how the hearing nerve responds to sounds. Both tests are comfortable for the newborn and reliable in detecting hearing loss, although professionals recommend all babies have a follow up screening to confirm the results.
A number of professionals are available to help parents of hearing-impaired children. Your primary care physician may refer you to an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist and a pediatric audiologist. An ENT is a physician who specializes in diseases of the ears, nose and throat. A pediatric audiologist specializes in testing infant and children’s hearing and recommending appropriate hearing devices. Early intervention specialists are trained to work with infants who have hearing loss. Your healthcare system may also introduce you to a service coordinator, who can help identify your family’s needs and coordinate services between providers.
If your child’s impairment can be improved with hearing aids, chances are good he will be fitted with a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid, especially if he is seven years-old or younger. These hearing aids are better suited for small children than in-the-ear (ITE) hearing aids as they are less likely to cause damage to the ear canal if your child accidentally falls.
Hearing aids are expensive and children outgrow them quickly; however, there are many resources available for families who need financial assistance.
• First, check with your insurance company. Although many health insurance policies do not cover hearing-related conditions, some do.
• The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired offers monetary awards for qualified families of deaf or hearing impaired children. The Preschool-Age Financial Aid Program awards are made once a year, typically during the summer months. For more information, visit the AGB website.
• Service organizations, such as Lion’s Club International, often recondition donated hearing aids and work with a local hearing center for fittings and adjustments.
• Check with your local United Way Agency to identify nonprofit organizations in your community who may offer financial assistance.
Federal legislation also provides valuable resources, especially once your child starts school. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provides special education services to ensure children with disabilities ages 3-12 receive a free public education. Qualified students receive specialized services according to their individual needs. As part of IDEA, an Individual Family Services Plan will be developed for your family and an Individual Education Plan will be developed specifically for your child.