Did your baby miss this essential test at birth?
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
From what I’ve heard, few things compare to the emotional whirlwind parents go through the day their child is born. I honestly cannot imagine the mix of excitement to meet your child coupled with the fear that everything turns out alright! I also know most parents totally trust their medical teams to do everything in their power to ensure the baby is healthy before sending them home for the first time, but unfortunately, sometimes tests get missed. Tests that have a huge impact on your child learning to communicate often get missed.
Hearing tests often get missed.
Hearing Loss in Children & Effects on Speech Development
About 1 in every 400 children is born with some degree of hearing loss, and it often goes unnoticed in their early years. Children with mild hearing loss can still hear many loud or deep sounds, and will react to their environment similar to children with normal hearing. Unfortunately, they have difficulty hearing softer speech sounds (like S, F, SH, and H), which causes them to mishear words. When these children begin to start talking, they often have a significant speech and language delay because the words they hear are unclear.
Early identification of children with hearing loss is essential, as it can be a long process for older children to adjust to receiving a hearing aid or cochlear implant. After getting their tech, children will need to relearn how to listen and identify sounds, and it can be a very overwhelming experience! Imagine if you woke up one day and suddenly some sounds are louder, some stayed the same, and some things that used to be silent are now making noise. For children with a cochlear implant, the sounds no longer have an organic quality and often are first perceived as a series of beeps until the brain adjusts. I know for me, this would be pretty disorienting! When children receive and wear their hearing aids or a cochlear implant as an infant, they are able to learn to listen to their world right away and require less therapy when they are older.
Hearing Screenings for Infants
Ideally, a hearing screening should be conducted in hospital by a technician shortly after a baby is born, usually around 12 hours when the baby is sleeping. It can also be done later out in the community’s public health unit if it was missed in hospital, or there was just no technician available. It is a totally non-invasive, comfy-for-baby test where a soft sound is played into the ear while a sensor detects the ear’s response. The machine will either detect a response (a “pass”) or it will not detect a response (a “fail”).
Failing a hearing screening does not always mean your child has hearing loss. No test has perfect accuracy, and these machines are set to be very sensitive so they miss as few children as possible. By making the machines sensitive, they also increased the risk of “false positives”. A false positive is when a child with normal hearing fails a hearing screening, which is so common it actually happens more often than hearing loss. So parents, try not to worry too much if your baby fails their hearing screening, but PLEASE DO follow up with an audiologist.
Follow Up for Hearing Screenings in Children
If your baby fails their hearing screening, your healthcare team should set up an appointment for you to get further testing from your local audiologist. They use more sophisticated equipment and a series of tests in order to determine if your baby is able to hear both high and low pitched sounds, and to what degree. If your baby is having difficulty hearing, these tests can also determine the most likely cause of the hearing impairment as well as if it might be temporary or permanent. Once you know, then you can work on getting the hearing loss treated immediately so your baby does not miss out on any of the crucial learning experiences that happen in infancy!
Since speech and hearing are so closely related, I will often screen my toddler and preschool speech clients for hearing impairments. Many of these children passed their newborn hearing screenings, but that does not mean they hear perfectly now. Childhood ear infections are very common, and fluid in the ear canal can cause hearing loss when it is present. Hearing loss can also develop over the course of childhood, and the newborn screenings do miss some children on rare occasions.
Rule out hearing loss for speech or language difficulties
Mostly I just want parents to realize that hearing is kind of like vision. It can go bit-by-bit and you can still be pretty functional even when you’re only hearing partial sounds. Babies will hear you and turn around, even with hearing loss. Children can still follow through on directions and routines, even with hearing loss. If your child has speech or language problems, it is always critical to rule out hearing loss – because we just never know! The benefits of catching these things early are massive, so I always recommend to do your due diligence and get everything checked out when concerns pop up.
Since you’re reading this, I know you’re HEAVILY invested in your child’s development already. And it’s safe to assume that you are doing a great job. So if your little one hasn’t had a hearing test, don’t feel any guilt about it! But if anyone ever asks you if you would like a hearing test, or raises concerns about your child’s hearing, I hope this convinces you it is worth your time!
Thanks for stopping by, I appreciate you and hope to see you soon!
Chatty Therapy has wonderful speech-language pathologists who can give you more specific ideas on how to work with your child and tailor it to your daily routine. Or we can come into your home to help your child learn the concepts they need. Speech-language pathologists specialize in helping children understand others and express themselves better. If you are worried about your child’s ability to express themselves or understand, learn more about our services or book a free 15-minute consultation. It may be helpful for us to do an assessment to identify specific concepts that your child could use more support with.