A simple test can help.
July 24, 2000 -- Veronica Miller was only 1 year old when her mother, Laura,
first began to worry about her hearing. Veronica didn't seem to respond when
her parents called out her name. And she rarely babbled or made baby talk like
other kids her age. But her pediatrician said some children start to recognize
speech patterns slower than others; he advised the family to wait and see what
happened in a month. A month later, the doctor repeated the same advice.
Frustrated, Miller took the girl to an audiologist for a hearing test and found
out Veronica's hearing was profoundly impaired in both ears.
"I couldn't believe it," said the East Meadow, N.Y., mother. "I
was in total denial. She always seemed like such a happy baby. It just kind of
Many parents with hearing-impaired infants share Miller's experience -- they
are simply unaware that their new baby can't hear. In fact, hearing impairment
is the most common birth defect in the United States, striking three of every
1,000 babies born here. Yet at a time when new technologies can make a profound
difference in a hearing-impaired child's ability to hear, only 35% of newborns
receive a simple hearing test before they leave the hospital. The result: Most
children who have a hearing impairment aren't diagnosed until they reach 30
months, a delay that can have lasting consequences.
Early Connections in Tiny Brains
"When a baby is born, it responds to auditory stimulation by making
connections within the brain," says Karl White, PhD, director of the
National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management (NCHAM) at Utah State
University. "These connections are essential for language development, and
if this doesn't happen within the first few months of life, it may never happen
the way that it should." The longer you wait, the more damage there will be
to the child's ability to process language, says White.
Prompt detection and treatment, on the other hand, can make a huge
difference. When Miller's second child Samantha was born, she insisted that the
girl receive a hearing test before leaving the hospital. Samantha was found to
be almost completely deaf in one ear and was fitted for her first hearing aids
before she was 1 month old.
In contrast, older sister Veronica didn't receive her first hearing aids
until shortly after her first birthday. They failed to improve her hearing
significantly, so when she was two, she received a cochlear implant -- a tiny
electronic device that is surgically implanted in the inner ear. It stimulates
the auditory nerve, sending sound signals straight to the brain.
Veronica is now 6, and while her hearing is normal, her speech skills have
tested at one to two years behind her peers. Samantha, on the other hand, is
now just over a year old and is blurting out words like an 18-month old.
"That's the difference early detection can make," says Miller.
"Veronica missed out on those first two years, and those years are so