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Newborn hearing tests vital to development

Contributed by | Friday, December 5th, 2014

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It takes a village to raise a child. We’ve all heard the African proverb. Along with the usual cadre of family members, members of that village we rely on to raise happy, healthy children include medical professionals. For example, doctors at the hospital conduct newborn hearing screenings to help detect hearing loss before babies leave the hospital. Pediatricians provide well-child visits to monitor child development. Nurses who oversee school screenings identify potential problems as they arise.  

newborn hearing loss
Nearly half of all infants
diagnosed with hearing loss or
deafness don't receive proper
follow up care. This can lead to
developmental delays in
speech and listening. 

What happens, though, if the village fails to help the child thrive?

According to a new study by the Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), that’s the case: children are going without the proper care needed. Specific to hearing healthcare, the CDC found that almost half of infants who failed their initial hearing screening did not receive the follow up testing needed to diagnose potential hearing loss. Without timely follow up services, the benefits of newborn hearing screening can be severely diminished.

Hearing screenings for infants are important because they can diagnose hearing loss at an early stage. Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) programs exist in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The federally-funded programs screen all babies for hearing loss by age one month, confirm whether a baby is deaf or hard of hearing by age three months and ensure that the child and family are enrolled in appropriate early intervention programs by age six months.  

But, according to the study, almost half of all infants tested at birth who are diagnosed as deaf or with hearing loss aren’t getting the follow-up care needed. The study suggests that sustained efforts are required to ensure infants who are diagnosed as deaf or with hearing loss receive the proper follow-up services. Without proper care, a child’s development can be severely hampered. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), hearing loss has four major impacts on youth:

  • It causes delays in speech and language communication skills
  • The language deficit causes learning delays that affect academic achievement
  • Communication difficulties lead to social isolation and poor self-concept
  • Hearing loss in children may have an impact on vocational choices

The CDC report also discovered parents of eight out of 10 young children had not been asked by their doctor to fill out a screening questionnaire designed to detect developmental delays. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children be screened for developmental delays and disabilities during well-child visits at 9 months, 18 months and 24 or 30 months of age. According to the CDC, approximately 13 percent of children age 3 to seventeen have some sort of developmental delay or disability. The earlier it’s discovered, the earlier intervention services can begin. When it comes to hearing loss issues, the sooner an abnormality is diagnosed, the better.

But it’s not always that easy. In the past, most children went without follow up care because of lack of of insurance. However, because uninsured children are less likely than insured children to receive these services, doctors are hopeful the new Affordable Care Act (ACA) will improve the situation by requiring insurance companies to cover preventive care services for children. Coverage for 26 preventive services are now required for children, including hearing screenings for newborns, according to ACA information on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website. Although this step is encouraging, the biggest challenge will be for early intervention providers to convince parents to follow up appropriately when their child is diagnosed with developmental delays or disabilities. 

"We must protect the health of all children and ensure that they receive recommended screenings and services," Dr. Stuart Shapira, associate director for science in CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a CDC news release. "Increased use of clinical preventive services could improve the health of infants, children and teens and promote healthy lifestyles that will enable them to achieve their full potential."

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