Children enrolled before they are 6 months old in a home-based program that teaches language skills to the deaf and hard of hearing are not only able to achieve appropriate language skills but also to maintain them over time, according to a new study.

The study underscores the importance of appropriate follow-up of newborn hearing screens that determine whether a more detailed evaluation of a baby’s hearing by an audiologist is needed, according to Jareen Meinzen-Derr, PhD, a researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the study’s main author.

The researchers studied 328 children enrolled in Ohio’s universal newborn hearing screening program. As is the case in many states, all infants born in Ohio hospitals or birthing centers receive hearing screenings before discharge, which determine whether a more detailed evaluation of a baby’s hearing is needed.

Newborns enrolled before 6 months of age were more likely to have age-appropriate language skills than children enrolled at or after 6 months, the study found.  They also maintained age-appropriate skills through the age of 3—the age at which early intervention services cease. Children enrolled at or after 6 months had lower baseline language skills but made significant language progress, possibly catching up to the group enrolled at an earlier age, irrespective of severity of hearing loss, says Meinzen-Derr. The researchers did not study children past the age of 3 to determine the level of their language skills.

Some 150,000 children are born in Ohio each year and about 6,000 of them do not pass their newborn hearing screening. Ohio infants who are identified with a permanent hearing loss are eligible for free services such as home-based language education, assistance with audiology follow-up appointments, connections to community resources, planning for transition to preschool and other services. The Regional Infant Hearing Programs in Ohio are funded by the Ohio Department of Health.

One of the largest children’s hospitals in the United States, Cincinnati Children’s is affiliated with the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and is one of the top two recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health.
[Source: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center]