May 08, 2012

NICHQ Highlights Infant Hearing Screening Program during Better Hearing and Speech Month

Unreliable follow-up processes threaten the development of babies who fail their hearing test

In recognition of May as Better Hearing and Speech Month, the National Institute for Children’s Healthcare Quality (NICHQ) has developed the following diagram to illustrate how infants are lost in the hearing screening process. Every year, US hospitals test the hearing of millions of babies, some 60,000 of whom do not pass an initial hearing test. Of those, roughly half have no state record of receiving follow-up care or services.

When infants fail a hearing test, they need to receive timely follow-up testing to determine if they do in fact have hearing loss. Infants that fail the second test should start early intervention services (such as using a hearing aid or sign language) as quickly as possible to ensure successful speech and language development. Unfortunately, these critical follow-up steps are not happening at the same level of reliability as the initial screening.

NICHQ aims to make sure no infants are lost in this system by helping teams across the country streamline screening and intervention services and making sure parents understand what to do when infants fail a hearing test.

NICHQ is partnering with the Health Resources and Service Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) to help all 50 states better their Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) services. Participants in this quality improvement program, called Improving Hearing Screening & Intervention Systems (IHSIS), work with audiologists, health care providers, and parents to implement positive changes in the detection and treatment systems.

Early hearing loss can have serious effects on a child’s development. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) lists the four ways in which hearing loss can potentially affect a child if left untreated:
  • It causes delays in the development of receptive and expressive communication skills (the child's speech and language skills develop more slowly).
  • The language deficit adversely affects the child's vocabulary, sentence structure, and speaking ability, causing learning problems that result in reduced academic achievement.
  • These learning and academic problems often lead to social isolation and poor self-esteem.
  • The inability of the child to effectively communicate and socialize with others and the low self-esteem that often occurs frequently have a detrimental impact on the child's future vocational choices.

However, many children who receive services early are able to develop language and cognition skills at rates similar to children without hearing loss. NICHQ encourages parents who suspect hearing loss in a child to seek treatment as soon as possible. For more information, please visit an informational page at the CDC, contact a local EDHI department, or search the ASHA.