2-3 out of every 1,000 infants have a hearing loss at birth and many more develop hearing loss in early childhood. Because hearing loss is pretty common, there’s been a huge push for all hospitals to screen new born’s hearing. Now babies with hearing loss can get the help they need asap instead of after there are noticeable difficulties.
What’s a “Failed” Hearing Screening?
Real quick, let’s change terminology and call the results of a hearing screening “Pass” and “Referral” (instead of pass/fail). “Referral” is more accurate because there are multiple reasons why this may happen (some of which mean that your child doesn’t have hearing loss). Because of this uncertainty, you should always be referred to an audiologist for follow-up testing. The audiologist will then determine whether there is a hearing loss, how severe it may be, or if there isn’t a hearing loss.
While in the exhausting phase of caring for a newborn, assuming that a referred hearing screening is nothing to be concerned about can have long term consequences for your child. Your baby’s brain development is on a timeline and language is developing even before birth. Don’t wait until you suspect there’s a problem with your child’s hearing, because by then it’ll be so much harder for your child to develop language and listening skills.
(If you don’t receive a referral and your child didn’t pass the newborn hearing screening, take the initiative to get those follow-up appointments.)
Referral to the Audiologist
So you’ve now received a referral to a pediatric audiologist. This is called “Diagnostic Audiology.”
You need to have your newborn’s appointment before they are 1 month old. Identifying asap whether there’s a hearing loss provides the best outcomes for your baby. If you have your baby’s audiologist appointment when they’re 2 months old, then it’s not the end of the world. But try your hardest to get it before 1 month old.
When you go to the audiologist, they’ll performing additional hearing tests to determine whether your newborn does or doesn’t have a hearing loss.
The tests that are most often performed are Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs) and ABR (Auditory Brainstem Response).
OAEs: This is the same test that was used to screen your baby’s hearing at the hospital. When this test is performed, a sound is put into your child’s hearing and then the machine will tell if the sound echoes back. The cochlea, or inner ear, is the part of the ear that is this test assesses.
ABRs: This test is when they put the electrodes on your child’s head to assess their brain/hearing nerve. ABRs are very accurate and can give a lot more information about your baby’s hearing. When the ABR is performed, your baby needs to be very still. Typically babies that aren’t 6 months old yet can be asleep while this test is administered. If you’re baby is older than 6 months, then they need to be sedated. Here’s a video of an ABR.
After these tests are completed, your pediatric audiologist can tell you if your baby does or doesn’t have a hearing loss. If your baby has a hearing loss, then the audiologist will explain what steps are needed next.
What if there’s a Hearing Loss?
Being told that your child has a hearing loss can be a surprising and emotional experience. There are support groups, Facebook groups, are community resources that can help you better understand and process the situation. There are also early intervention services that help your child develop language and can help you navigate everything that’s going on.
For tips & strategies to develop your child’s language and listening skills, check out these posts.