How to tell if your baby has a hearing loss
Today, all babies are screened for hearing loss under the Newborn Hearing Screening Programme. The process is voluntary, so if you are not offered screening, speak to your Health Visitor or GP about an appointment with your local screening service.
A bit of a shock?
One in every thousand British children are born with some kind of hearing loss, and most of these are born into hearing families. But deafness will not stop your child having a fulfilling childhood.
Some parents worry that a child with hearing loss will not be able to take part in the normal rough and tumble of school life, make friends, play sports or enjoy music. In fact, deaf children can do all these things.
Does screening hurt babies?
No – it’s a speedy process often done while the baby is asleep and does not cause any discomfort.
What happens next?
If your baby has hearing loss, you will be made an appointment for an assessment at the local audiology department.
Most babies will be able to hear some sounds. The audiologist can explain exactly what sounds your baby can hear easily and which he or she may find more difficult.
If the audiologist finds that your baby has mild hearing loss, they may fit your baby with a hearing aid.
There are some practical things you can do in order to give your baby the best start.
Move close to your baby so that they can see as well as hear you, and use eye contact. Talk as you would to a normal baby, with repetition, silly noises and the rhythmic way of speaking that many parents find themselves using naturally with little ones. Leave the baby time to respond to your words. Be as responsive and engaged as you would with any other baby.
You can make it easier for your baby to hear what you are saying if you:
• Look at your baby at the same time as talking to him or her
• Keep close to your baby while talking
• Avoid speaking too loudly or too slowly
• Use plenty of gestures and facial expressions while speaking
• Talk to your baby in a quiet environment. Heavy curtains and carpets help to absorb noise; hard surfaces like wooden floors make it harder for your baby to hear
• Cut down on background noise – turn off the radio, TV or kitchen appliances
• Babies with hearing aids often find it harder to hear when it’s noisy, such as at the supermarket or birthday parties.
Will my child learn to talk?
Some children will learn to talk normally; others will use sign language or a bit of both. At this stage concentrate on ensuring you spend some time every day communicating with your baby in a quiet environment where he or she has a chance to listen.
Sometimes, hearing loss in babies is not detected, despite screening. Suzanne Duffill’s son Joe was born in 2000 but it was only at three and a half his hearing loss was detected. The main indication that Joe had trouble hearing was that his speech did not progress as well as his peers. “In the video of his Christmas playgroup concert, you can see he didn’t know the songs but was trying to join in,” says Suzanne.
Joe has since been fitted with hearing aids and is now doing well at school.
Suzanne advises any parent who suspects hearing loss has been missed in normal tests to consult their health visitor so they can monitor the child’s progress. She also spoke to Joe’s playgroup leaders and nursery school teachers who confirmed her suspicion that things were not normal and gave Joe more support.