Breaking Sound Barriers Local Hospitals Are Testing the Hearing of Newborns, Giving Those with Loss a Chance for Early Correction

By Mattson, Marcia | The Florida Times Union, January 26, 1999 | Go to article overview

Breaking Sound Barriers Local Hospitals Are Testing the Hearing of Newborns, Giving Those with Loss a Chance for Early Correction


Mattson, Marcia, The Florida Times Union


Four of the 1,200 babies born at Orange Park Medical Center since March were diagnosed with hearing loss early, thanks to the hospital's decision to start testing all newborns.

Those babies have a good shot at learning and developing speech normally, said Catherine Swanson, a speech language pathologist/audiologist at Orange Park Medical Center.

But many kids born with hearing loss don't.

The average age children are diagnosed with hearing loss is 2 or 3 years old. By then, they're behind in their speech, language, social, learning and emotional development.

That's why local child health workers and two state agencies are pushing to test all newborns before they leave the hospital.

Their case is compelling.

Hearing loss is the most common birth defect. About six of every 1,000 babies born in the United States have some degree of hearing loss. Three of every 1,000 babies are born with permanent hearing loss.

The University of Colorado released research last year that showed if children don't get auditory stimulation before they are 6 months old, they never catch up in speech and language development.

Children with even mild hearing loss are 10 times as likely to fail a grade than children with normal hearing, according to the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management at Utah State University.

The university estimates that catching the problem early can save as much as $421,000 in special education costs for putting a hearing-impaired children through high school.

"When you consider the cost and potential savings to society in educational savings for that child, that's why we want to do universal screening," said D'Lo S. Howe, a management review specialist at Children's Medical Services in the Florida Department of Health.

The test is quick and doesn't cause the infant discomfort.

Baptist Medical Center, which started testing newborns about two months ago, inserts a little microphone in their outer ear that emits clicking sounds, then waits for the ear to echo the sound back. Infants can be fitted with a hearing aid when they are just a month old.

Carol Coughlin, who lives in Jacksonville in Southside, delivered her son Brian Jacob last summer at a hospital that didn't offer the testing. But she heard about Orange Park Medical Center's program, and the center agreed to test her son in August, when he was less than a month old.

"He passed with flying colors, which is something we're happy about," Coughlin said. "Since they [babies] can't tell you, it's important you find out their hearing is really OK."

Medical workers traditionally have tried to identify babies who might have hearing problems through risk factors, such as whether the mother was exposed to mumps. …

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