Can Your Child Hear You?

Published: Feb. 17, 2003 at 9:22 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 17, 2003 at 9:44 PM CST
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At just a few days old, Cierra Ely is taking a hearing test. Audiologist Breena Scharrer, M.A. explains.  "The computer reads electrical activity in response to sounds from the little plastic tip inside her ear canal."

In about 10 minutes, a computer tells her parents if she baby has hearing loss. Most parents aren't aware of the long-term risks of hearing loss, according to audiologist Paul Kileny, Ph.D. "One of the most prominent effects and one of the most devastating effects would be a delay in the acquisition of speech and language," says Kileny.

Parents can detect problems by watching for developmental milestones, starting at just a few months with babbling. Kileny says, "If they have a significant hearing loss beyond six months of age, they stop these spontaneous vocalizations." By 1 year, children should say one or two words. By 3, they should put together understandable short sentences. "If they are completely unintelligible to anybody but the parents, again, that might indicate some degree of hearing loss," says Kileny. Anna Penney was 16 months old when her parents found out she only had 65 percent of her hearing. Hearing aids help, but her speech is behind. Anna's mother, Mary Lee, says, "When she was 2, they said she had the speech of a 1 year old. When she was 3, they said 2 year old." Anna is improving and for now, doesn't let anything interfere with her fun.

Kileny stresses the importance of follow up. Just finding out your child has hearing loss doesn't do any good if steps are not taken to correct the problem and help the child catch up. Hearing aids can be used immediately, and implants can be used as early as age 1.