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NIDCD Urges Screening for Infant Hearing

On Labor Day weekend, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders began an effort to ensure that babies who fail hearing screenings are brought back by their parents for diagnosis and intervention. More babies in the United States are born in August than in any other month. (Thanksgiving appears to manifest itself in many ways.)

Many of us know of a baby born this past month. Because of state laws and new programs in 38 states and the District of Columbia, it is likely that baby you know was screened for hearing loss before he or she was discharged from the hospital. Approximately 87 percent of all infants are screened for hearing loss. Two to three babies in every 1,000 infants born will have a significant hearing loss. Hearing loss or deafness in the first months and years of life affects the ability to acquire language and/or speech during a critical period of development. Undetected, hearing loss or deafness can have a significant effect on the educational and social growth of the child. (Yes, infants can wear hearing aids.) The interventions may include auditory devices, assistive technologies and/or sign language. "Most important is that the young child begins to communicate and the family recognizes the needs of the child," emphasized Dr. James Battey, Jr., director of NIDCD.

Currently, only about half the families are coming back for diagnosis and intervention. NIDCD held a working group to determine why there are problems with follow-up and determined that the rate could be improved if: parents fully understand their child's screening results; parents fully understand the importance of the diagnostic evaluation; and parents are provided with necessary contact and resource information.

To respond, NIDCD is developing a special bilingual web site (visit www.nidcd.nih.gov and follow the baby.) The institute has also begun a national outreach to local and regional newspapers. The site and resource materials include information for parents, information for professionals and hospital administrators, information about the variety of intervention resources and communication strategies and tactics as well as links to key NIDCD-supported and other useful sites that provide additional information.

Radio interviews in English and Spanish provide some simple steps for families. If you are a new parent, be sure your baby has been screened; get a diagnosis before 3 months of age; begin an intervention before 6 months of age.

Parents need to know, also, that if their baby passes the screening, it does not mean they should not remain vigilant. There are many forms of late-onset hearing loss that, if undetected, will have an important impact on the educational and social development of their child. An estimated 28 million Americans are deaf or hard-of-hearing.


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