Can Your Baby Hear You? Don't Take It For Granted
Parents, Doctors Often Miss Signs of Hearing Impairment;
Early Testing Can Prevent a Lifetime of Learning Problems
PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y., Nov. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Your newborn infant may seem just fine, happily cooing and gurgling away. But as each day passes, one of America's most common birth defects may silently imperil his chance for a full and healthy future. Approximately three of every 1,000 American babies are born deaf or hearing impaired, often going months or even years before their problem is discovered. And as Reader's Digest magazine warns parents in its December 2000 issue, this delay can seriously threaten a child's long-term success in school and in life. Many hospitals still fail to screen newborns for hearing impairment, the magazine reports, and some common hearing tests are simply not reliable. As undiagnosed children reach their school years, they are often unfairly labeled as "slow" or "behavior problems." But there are simple steps you can take to detect infant hearing disorders, before they lead to lasting developmental damage. Reader's Digest offers expert tips, provides a time-line to check your child's progress (when she should respond to her own name, for example), and tells which tests you should request if you suspect something is wrong. Invisible Threat Even the most careful parent can fail to spot the early warning signs, Reader's Digest contributing editor Anita Bartholomew explains in "Baby, Can You Hear Me?" "From birth until about six months, all babies coo, gurgle and make vocalization sounds," says Robert Fifer, a University of Miami School of Medicine audiologist. That's why he calls infant hearing loss an invisible problem: "You can't tell the difference between a three-month-old hearing baby and a three-month-old deaf baby." And as parent Heather Young learned the hard way, medical professionals themselves often misread the evidence. Three different doctors found nothing wrong with her daughter Jennifer's hearing, even when the girl still was not talking at age 18 months. The result: Jennifer was 3 before she finally was fitted with hearing aids -- and now, at age 12, still lags far behind hearing children her age. She has difficulty keeping up with conversation, and often feels she just doesn't fit in. Mounting evidence shows that the longer children like Jennifer go untreated, the greater the odds against them. One 1998 study suggests that detection by age six months is key -- before delays in language development impair learning and social skills for years to come, according to study leader Christine Yoshinaga-Itano from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Quick Action is Crucial But misdiagnosis of such children is disturbingly common, Reader's Digest warns. Even infants with severe hearing loss may appear to react normally to one common test, in which a bell is rung near the ear. For a far more reliable diagnosis, the magazine urges parents to ask instead for an auditory brain-stem response test (ABR), in which clicking sounds sent through earphones are measured in the child's brain. Otoacoustic emissions testing (OAE) is another effective alternative that some medical facilities use instead. Early detection is crucial -- just ask the Youngs. Jennifer's little brother, Ty, also was born with a hearing deficit, but was tested immediately and was already wearing hearing aids at eight weeks. While Jennifer's comprehension skills remain sadly limited, Ty, now seven, has abilities that match those of other children his age. So, if you are an expectant parent, ask if your hospital offers newborn screening (many still don't, even where required by state law). If not, find out who does. And if a child of any age appears to be having language or learning difficulties, a hearing test might help get to the root of the problem. The ABR and OAE tests are both non-invasive and relatively inexpensive -- and considering the financial and emotional cost of long-term developmental damage, the December 2000 issue of Reader's Digest tells why they are a sound investment for any family in doubt.
SOURCE Reader's Digest
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