What to do if your baby’s hearing screening reveals a possible problem
Most new parents can’t wait for the day when their child talks for the first time. When it finally happens, grandparents are alerted, baby books are inked in with dates and times, and cell phone ringtones are replaced with the newly recorded cooing of “da-da.”
But in order for your baby’s first words to arrive on time, you need to make sure that his or her hearing is okay. About two or three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Fortunately, early identification of these children allows them to get the help they need during the first 2 years of life, which is a critical period for the development of speech and language skills.
Universal newborn hearing screening programs currently operate in every state and most US territories. These programs employ two quick and easy tests to let you know if your baby might have hearing loss.
Like “heelstick” and immunization testing, a hearing screening has become an essential part of the complete set of services offered to make sure your baby is healthy and receiving the proper care. (See How & why hearing screenings can help your baby for more information about hearing screenings.)
Remember, the hearing screening is only the first step. If the screening reveals that your baby may have hearing loss, the next step is to schedule an appointment for a follow-up examination with an audiologist before your baby is 3 months old. An audiologist is a health professional who conducts a series of tests to determine whether your child has a hearing problem and, if so, the type and severity of that problem.
Why is a follow-up examination necessary after a baby hearing screening?
A follow-up examination with an audiologist helps in many ways. Audiologists can identify the kind of hearing loss a child has and sometimes the cause The audiologist also may recommend further medical attention, such as a visit to the otolaryngologist. An otolaryngologist is a physician specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders who can determine the cause of hearing loss as well as possible treatment options.
If a hearing problem exists, the audiologist, otolaryngologist, pediatrician, or other professionals who work with your child will direct you to intervention services that can help overcome barriers to communication. For example, you may be referred to a speech-language pathologist or a teacher who is experienced in working with children with hearing loss. You also may learn about special tools to help your child make use of what hearing she or he has as well as tips on how to best communicate with your child.
When should I have the follow-up examination performed?
If your baby didn’t pass the hearing screening, you should schedule a follow-up examination with an audiologist before your child is three months old. Ask the hospital or facility staff who conducted your baby’s screening to provide you with contact information for one or more certified audiologists. They may be able to help you schedule an appointment.
You also can obtain a list of certified audiologists from the American Academy of Audiology at audiology.org or the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association at asha.org. If the follow-up examination confirms that your baby has hearing loss, your baby should begin receiving some form of intervention services before he or she is 6 months old.
Early Intervention and Special Education
As hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to develop speech, language, and social skills, the earlier a child who is deaf or hard-of-hearing starts getting services, the more likely the child’s speech, language, and social skills will reach their full potential.
Early intervention program services help young children with hearing loss learn language skills and other important skills. Research shows that early intervention services can greatly improve a child’s development.
Babies that are diagnosed with hearing loss should begin to get intervention services as soon as possible, but no later than 6 months of age.
There are many services available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act 2004. Services for children from birth through 36 months of age are called Early Intervention or Part C services.
Even if your child has not been diagnosed with a hearing loss, he or she may be eligible for early intervention treatment services. The IDEA 2004 says that children under the age of 3 years (36 months) who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services. These services are provided through an early intervention system in your state. Through this system, you can ask for an evaluation.
No problem? Still play it safe
If the follow-up exam revealed that your child’s hearing is okay, after all — does that mean you don’t need to check his or her hearing again?
Hearing loss can occur at any time of life, and some inherited forms of hearing loss don’t appear until a child is a toddler or enters school, or even later. In addition, illness, ear infection, head injury, certain medications, aging, and exposure to loud noise are all potential causes of hearing loss.
For this reason, it’s wise to schedule hearing tests periodically, such as before your child begins school or if he or she shows signs of hearing loss.
Baby’s hearing screening test checklist for parents
By 1 month old:
Make sure that your baby’s hearing has been screened either before you leave the hospital or immediately afterward. If your baby’s hearing has been screened, find out the results. If it hasn’t, schedule a screening before your baby is 1 month old.
If your baby didn’t pass the hearing screening, schedule a follow-up appointment with a certified audiologist immediately. Ask your doctor for a list of certified audiologists in your area. Your doctor may be able to help you schedule an appointment. Or find a list of audiologists in your area by visiting the American Academy of Audiology at audiology.org or the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association at asha.org.
If you must cancel the follow-up appointment, reschedule! Make sure you take your baby to a follow-up examination before she or he is 3 months old.
By 6 months old:
Start your baby in some form of intervention before he or she is 6 months old. Intervention can include hearing devices, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants; communication methods, including oral approaches such as lipreading or manual approaches such as American Sign Language; or a combination of options, including assistive devices. Ask your pediatrician, otolaryngologist, or speech-language pathologist about available options.
Find a list of otolaryngologists in your area by visiting the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery website at entnet.org. Find a speech-language pathologist at the American Speech–Language-Hearing Association website at asha.org.
Remain active and involved in your child’s progress.
If you move, make sure that your child’s doctors and specialists have your new address.
Even if your child passed the follow-up examination, schedule hearing tests periodically, such as before your child begins school or if he or she shows signs of hearing loss.