Of the 28 million Americans who have been diagnosed with some level of hearing loss or disorder, thousands of those are children, many of whom were diagnosed at birth. According to statistics released by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), approximately 33 out of 1,000 babies born daily are either profoundly deaf or partially deafmaking hearing loss the number one birth defect in America.
Hearing loss impacts most areas of a childs development, affecting social interactions, communication skills, speech and language comprehension, and cognitive abilities. Children with undiagnosed or untreated hearing disabilities often face difficulties in school, among peers, and simply living a normal life. When hearing loss is found early, intervention and treatment can produce dramatic improvement in a childs speech and language development by school age.
Fortunately, thanks to the tireless efforts of such groups as ASHA, 44 states (plus the District of Columbia) now have Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) laws or voluntary compliance programs. As a result, roughly 95 percent of all infants born in those states are screened before leaving the hospital. (There are currently two screening tests used on infants, otoacoustic emissions and auditory brainstem response. Both tests are safe and comfortable and pose no risks for babies.) Unfortunately, many children do not receive follow-up testing or treatment after the initial examination. Hence, further public education and awareness programs dealing with the treatment of hearing disorders are needed. In the meantime, ASHA continues to actively lobby at both the state and federal level to enact legislation that would provide funding for hearing screening and care programs for newborns and infants.
With 44 of the 50 states onboard, it is high time that federal legislators step in to protect all babies born in the United States from developing the learning disabilities that often result from going undiagnosed for a hearing disorder. A little spent on the front end of a life is a great investment in the future of America.
Rogena Schuyler Silverman