Screening for Hearing Loss

Good hearing is key to developing good speech and language skills. We know that the foundation for these skills develops during the critical early years from birth to age three years old. Unfortunately, hearing loss continues to be one of the most common congenital disorders in America. It is estimated that 3 infants out of 1,000 born are deaf or hearing impaired.

Since 1999, there has been federal legislation funding newborn infant hearing screening. Nationally, more than 90 percent of infants are screened for hearing loss before they leave the hospital. In California, 78 percent of newborns were screened in 2005 and that rate jumped to 84.4 percent in 2006.

The two most commonly used hearing tests for newborns are called otoacoustic emission (OAE) testing and auditory brainstem response (ABR) testing . With the OAE test, a small probe containing a microphone and speaker is placed into the infant’s ear. Sounds are generated and responses coming back are recorded. With the ABR test, leads are attached to the baby’s head and connected to a computer. Through an earphone, sounds enter each ear separately and a computer analyzes changes in the brain wave pattern in response to the sounds.

Both of these tests are computerized and quite reliable. The baby receives a score of either pass or refer. If your baby does not pass either test, you need to take additional steps. That’s because screening tests are designed just to identify babies who need further attention. Often, the child who is given a score of refer will be rescreened. If there is still not a pass score, the baby should be referred to an audiologist.

An audiologist should assess your child prior to age 3 months. If it turns out that your child is diagnosed with a hearing impairment, early intervention services should be in place by the time your child is 6 months old.

Links & Resources

Rescorla, L. & Ratner, N.B. (1996) “Phonetic profiles of toddlers with specific expressive language impairment (SLI-E)”. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 39, 153-165.

Lof, G.L. (2004) “Confusion about speech norms and their use.” Thinking Publications Online Conference.