The majority of children can hear and listen from birth. They learn to talk by imitating both the voices of their parents and relatives and the sounds around them.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for all children. Two to Three percent of children in the United States either are born deaf or are hard-of-hearing and many more lose their hearing during childhood. It is imperative that deafness or hearing loss is detected as early as possible as these babies may need to learn verbal communication and language differently.

At what stage should I have my baby’s hearing screened?

Hearing screening should take place within the first month of life. Make sure you see a hearing expert (audiologist) if hearing loss is suspected; they should test your baby’s hearing within three months of age and if hearing loss is established it is important to think about the use of hearing devices or other communication options by six months of age.

Where do I go to get my baby’s hearing screened?

Many hospitals routinely screen all newborns for hearing loss. Some hospitals only screen those newborns considered to be at high risk of hearing loss, such as infants that have a family history of deafness or hearing problems, low birth weight, or certain other medical conditions.

It is important for your baby to be screened as many children with no risk factors whose parents and grandparents have normal hearing can still are born with hearing loss. It is a good idea to find out what your hospital does. If you are already home with your baby and you are unsure if your baby’s hearing was tested, ask the doctor or the clinic where your baby’s records are.

Many States have passed Early Hearing Detection and Intervention legislation and a few Sates frequently screen the hearing of most newborn babies although there is no legislation requiring it. If you would like to find out what your State does regarding the hearing screening for babies, you can browse the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) web site at www.asha.org.

How is hearing screening preformed on babies?

There are two tests used to screen hearing in babies, both of which require no activity from the baby other than lying still.

The first the Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) test shows if part of the ear is responding correctly to sound, a sponge earphone is positioned in the ear canal during this test and the ear is stimulated with sound, the “echo” is then measured. Everyone with normal hearing has this “echo” therefore if this is missing it could be an indicator of hearing loss.

The second test is the auditory brain stem response (ABR) test, which checks how the brain and the brain stem respond to sound. During this test, electrodes are positioned on the ears and head and the child wears earphones. A child should be calm and quiet during this test so a mild sedative may be administered. Electrical activity in your child’s brain, when they should be hearing, is then measured when a doctor or nurse sends sounds through the earphones