The Importance of Newborn Hearing Screening Tests
Babies can be born with hearing loss. Hearing loss which is not genetic in origin can be the result of birth complications, exposure to viruses, infections or other un-diagnosed factors. To read more about what we do know about hearing before birth see this article.
It is surprisingly easy for hearing loss to go unnoticed in a newborn or young child, Hearing Screenings are a vital tool for early detection and treatment.
It is important that you do not delay in getting your child tested because time is an important factor as speech and language acquisition begins early. The sooner hearing loss is detected the sooner a child can begin receiving appropriate treatment. This may prevent further hearing loss and/or allow language skills to develop within the time frame where language acquisition is easiest. To develop language skills later in life is much more challenging.
Checklist: Your baby’s Speech, Language & Hearing milestones (Provided courtesy of the Gauteng Baby Hearing Project)
3 – 6 months
- Localizes speaker’s voice (turns head) and smiles in response to speech;
- Enjoys rattles and noisemaking toys
6 – 10 months
- Reacts to music by cooing;
- Responds to own name;
- Recognises words such as “mommy” and “daddy” by looking at the correct person;
- Understands common words;
- Babbles with sounds such as “ba”, ‘ma” and “da”
10 – 15 months
- Knows names of favourite toys and can point to them when asked;
- Likes rhymes and jingles;
- Imitates simple words and sounds. First clear words appear.
15 – 20 months
- Can follow simple verbal instructions e.g. “Go and fetch your shoes”;
- Recognises body parts;
- Asks for things by name;
- Has an expressive vocabulary of 10 – 20 single words.
20 – 24 months
- Begins combining words into 2-word sentences e.g. “More juice”;
- Refers to self by name;
- Enjoys being read to;
- Shows interest in sounds of radio, television and stereo.
2– 3 years
- At 2 years, vocabulary of approximately 270 words, increasing each day;
- Wants to communicate to express needs, share experiences and interests;
- Listens to s 20-minute story
- By age 3, vocabulary of about 1000 words;
- 80% of speech is intelligible to strangers;
- Can ask simple questions.
Knowing is Empowering
Despite feeling overwhelmed by the news that your child has hearing loss, keep in mind the positive and empowering impact of this knowledge. The sooner you have the facts regarding your child’s hearing health, the sooner you can begin educating yourself and your family and make informed decisions on which treatment options might be possible for your little one.
Research conducted in South Africa found that the average age of obtaining a diagnosis of hearing loss was at 23 months of age and the average age of receiving enrollment into a support program to be 31 months of age. It was suggested that this is due to a lack of systematic testing done on newborns.
No matter how old your child is, when they are diagnosed with hearing loss it is important to seek the support and services of paediatric audiologists and other hearing specialists as soon as possible.
Parent’ Guilt is Uncalled For
The truth is that science hasn’t pinpointed all the factors which can affect hearing in the womb and in infants. This reality should help prevent and/or shed any lingering self-blame over a child being born with a hearing disability. While guilt may seem to be a natural reaction it is certainly not a helpful one. Taking on misplaced guilt can be immobilizing and can contribute to a feeling of shame so severe that it may delay your decision to or prohibit you from seeking the help you, your family, and your baby need.
Seek out support for yourself as a parent. This could mean finding a professional counsellor or getting involved in a group or online support community. Coping with a diagnosis of hearing loss is difficult, especially in the beginning. Give yourself extra grace and be willing to acknowledge and accept that you may need additional support during this initial time of adjustment and even on a more continuous basis.
It is not easy to learn that your baby or child has hearing loss, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that a bright future of growth, purpose and fulfilment is not possible.
Types of Treatment
Treatment used will depend on the severity of the hearing loss, the cause of the hearing loss (if this can be determined) as well as the health of the child. It may include surgery to correct structural issues, medication or ear tubes for infection, speech therapy, or an implantable solution such as a cochlear implant or Baha implant. In 2016 a three and a half month old infant became the youngest recipient of a cochlear implant in South Africa, a video about her story and featuring her parents urging others to have their newborn’s hearing screening can be viewed here .
You are the primary caregiver to your child – be involved, and stay very involved! If something in their treatment plan is not working, advocate for them and speak up to the care team treating them. Don’t hesitate to request for something to change, ask lots of questions, or to stand up for what you think is best for your child. Understand that this is going to be a process. The emotion and authenticity of your family’s experiences is a wonderful example to others who may feel overwhelmed, scared or intimidated after receiving a diagnosis. Consider speaking out and sharing your story to let others know they are not alone!
If your new baby or small child has benefited from a hearing screening test let other parents know it is always the right time to get a child’s hearing tested!
Southern ENT has been fortunate to be of service to numerous families affected by hearing loss and it would be an honour to work with you and your family. Simply contact us.
For any information or advice, please call our offices on 011 667 6243