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Hearing Trouble

A simple test can help.
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A Screening for Every Child continued...

Unlike hearing tests for older children, which require the child to respond to a sound by raising a hand, hearing tests for infants measure vibrations produced by the cochlea. (The infant tests are painless.) If the vibrations are weak, further computer-aided testing can measure the baby's brain activity in response to noise, confirming the diagnosis of a hearing impairment. While the basic screening test cost as much as $600 per child 20 years ago, today's equipment has brought that figure down to about $40. "It is now feasible to test every child when they're born," says White. "The tests are accurate and inexpensive."

So why aren't all infants being tested? White blames the delay on the current health care climate, where expenses are often considered before patient needs. "Hospitals are looking to cut procedures out, not to add new ones," he says. But despite the slow pace of change, White is optimistic. With urging from both the medical community and the government, more and more hospitals are making infant hearing screenings a standard procedure.

"If left undetected and untreated, a hearing disability will have a significant impact on language development," says Foster. "That's why we have to identify these kids within the first six months. If it goes undetected after that, their speech levels will probably test below normal almost indefinitely. Parents shouldn't have to go through the heartache of late identification of these problems."

Thanks to advances in testing and treatment, the Miller household --with two vocal little girls running about -- is anything but silent now. But that's just fine with mom Laura; she wouldn't want it any other way.

Will Wade, a San Francisco-based writer, has a 5-year-old daughter and was the co-founder of a monthly parenting magazine. His work has appeared in POV magazine, The San Francisco Examiner, and Salon.

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