Guest Author - Rebecca Spooner
If you are reading this than you are concerned about your child's hearing. Maybe your baby's hearing screening test at birth came back abnormal and you need to repeat it. Maybe they aren't babbling like you feel they should. Maybe you have a family history of deafness and want to be prepared to recognize the signs in your newborn. Whatever your situation, this article will help!
Repeat Screening Test
One of the most important things to remember is that these tests do have a significant margin of error. Quite a few newborns fail their first screening, but not all of them have hearing loss. As with many diagnostic tests, it is more likely to receive a false negative than a false positive. If your child passes their hearing test then you can be assured this is an accurate reading at the time. However, don't panic if your baby doesn't pass. There are many factors that can affect this reading such as an infant that is moving a lot or crying during the test or residual fluid or debris in the inner ear from the womb. You will often be asked to repeat screening tests if you have a family history of deafness as your child should be closely monitored throughout their development. If a repeat screening test is failed as well, then you know that you have a genuine problem to deal with.
Signs that Your Baby has a Hearing Problem
There are a number of signs to beware of when considering your child's hearing. One of the earliest indicators is that your baby should turn their head towards a noise or look towards it. You can test this by calling their name or even making a loud noise to see if they startle. Sometimes your baby will be too focused on a toy to respond so this test is more accurate if you place them on the floor with no distractions around before you begin. Another good sign is that your baby is babbling. If they make no noises at all other than squealing after they are about 6-8 months of age, this would be something to address with your family physician or pediatrician. If your child is babbling however you notice that they are not responding very well to you or to noises around them, it could be possible that they can hear but perhaps have some hearing loss in one or both ears that would dull the noise unless they hear it very loudly. Essentially, your baby should pass both tests by about age 8 months, if not contact your pediatrician to discuss your concerns. The earlier a problem is found the more likely it is to be repaired, so it is important to be aware as your child develops.
Family History of Deafness
One of the first questions you will be asked upon receiving the hearing screening test at the hospital is whether you or your partner has a family history of hearing loss. It is important to answer this question truthfully, even though it will mean more testing in the future. There have been significant studies to prove that the earlier a condition is discovered the easier it is to treat or even cure. At the very least, if your child was going to go completely deaf, it is possible to help teach them to talk. Although this doesn't save their hearing, this can save an incredible amount of frustration on their behalf and make sure that no matter who they are with as they grow up, they are understood and acknowledged.
How to Help your Hearing Impaired Child
If you are reading this and already know that your child is deaf or suffering from hearing loss, you may be asking what to do now? The most important thing you can do for your child now is to help them be aware and confident with their disability. Teach them to communicate so that they are empowered to speak up for themselves. Work together with a speech therapist to try to teach them to talk (this is possible), and teach them sign language. Depending on the age of your child, there are many ways to do this. You can enroll them in a class, get them a tutor, teach them yourself by learning ASL (American Sign Language) and use signs in your everyday activities. If your child is very young, there are a number of videos that you can purchase. My favorite is Signing Time. This video series has baby signing time for infants all the way up to the older child. The creator, Rachel, is the mother of Leah who is deaf and uses ASL. It is bright, cheery, filled with songs and both animation as well as little kids doing the signs along with your child. These videos are my children's favorite videos and they ask for them every day. Even my children under 1 were glued to the screen and I found that they were soon using simple sign language to sign "all done" or "more" (my 9 month old signs all done). These videos will help your child communicate whether they are deaf or not and enable them to have a voice. And finally, work together with your family physician or pediatrician to ensure that they receive the best medical care.
For more information, check out the website, babyhearing.org and contact your local health nurse for more resources in your area.