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Testing Tuesdays: Newborn Hearing Screening

My mom got her MA in speech pathology when I was little and she took me to school with her to save on childcare. Having seen so many kids and adults struggle with speech disorders, I feel extra passionate about referring my clients for hearing screens.

Baby begins to use sound as soon as they are born. Hearing language in the first months of life prepares them for speaking. 

Hearing deficits can range from mild to profound. Even a mild deficit can affect the way a baby hears language. If a baby isn’t hearing a full range of sounds the first year, it may cause speech disorders and learning disabilities. 

1-3 out of 1,000 babies are born with some degree of hearing deficit. Over 90% of these babies are born to parents with no hearing loss. 

Even if baby’s having a startle response or is turning toward sound, they still may have some hearing loss. So routine, early screening is recommended for every baby. 

Most hospitals in the United States screen before discharge. Screening is painless and comes in two forms: 

  • Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) measures sound waves produced in the inner ear, as clicks or tones are played through earphones
  • Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR)  measures the hearing nerve and brain’s response with electrodes, as clicks or tones are played through earphones 

If baby was born out-of-hospital, the provider may not be able to screen, as equipment is expensive. But you should get a referral to a facility that screens.

Follow the “1-3-6” rule: 

  • Screen in the first month. The screen has a high false-positive rate: If baby doesn’t pass, it doesn’t always mean they have deafness, only that they need more diagnostic tools, or even just a follow-up screen
  • If baby truly has a hearing problem, it should be diagnosed by 3 months
  • Early intervention should be arranged by 6 months 

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