At a symposium of hearing specialists, healthcare providers and educators held in Washington, D.C., May 9, 2007, leading hearing authority and founder of the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management (NCHAM) made the following remark before this audience of experts from various disciplines:
12,000 babies are born every year with congenital hearing loss. If we can identify those babies early and provide them with the kinds of services that we now know how to do, they will be able to achieve on par with their age mates, they will develop language normally, in short, they will lead very different lives than deaf people [have] historically.
- Dr. Karl White, Utah State University
Founder, National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management (NCHAM)
This is, indeed, startling news. Dr. White states that we have the technology and the know-how to treat newborns with hearing impairment to the point where theyre able to live normal productive lives just like their age mates. However, a significant number of these newborns never receive the treatment required, or they receive it at a later stage in their development. This diminishes the child's acquisition of language skills and, subsequently, delays development of other cognitive skills.
Thus, a newborn who receives a confirmed diagnosis of hearing impairment (the most common birth defect, by the way) and begins therapy early often starting at three weeks of age will grow up to live what most of us consider a normal life. A newborn who doesnt receive timely treatment will lag behind peers, develop lower quality speaking skills and will develop problem-solving and other skills at a much slower rate.
And while improvements have been made since the 1999 passage of the first Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) legislation at the federal level, the numbers show that theres still a long way to go in seeing that newborns receive the treatment and therapies they need to effectively address the issue of infant hearing impairment.