July 24, 2000 -- Some 12,000 American children are born each year with impaired hearing. If you're concerned that your child may be one of them, you'll want to pay attention to the warning signs. Here are some of the most common, according to the National Campaign for Hearing Health.
By the time your baby is 3 months old, she should be able to turn her head and smile when you are speaking to her. Loud noises should be enough to startle or wake her. Not responding to sounds is one of the major indicators of hearing impairment at any age.
By 6 months old, your baby should enjoy playing with rattles and other noisy toys. She is likely to be repeating basic speech patterns such as "ooh," "aah," or "ba-ba." She should also be able to turn her head to respond to a new sound and recognize differences in vocal tones, especially a stern "No."
Between 6 and 10 months, most children will respond to their name and to other common sounds, like a ringing telephone. They will babble frequently, even when alone, and will start to use their first words. Slow language development, and especially the lack of babbling, are key indicators of hearing problems in the first few years of life. Some impaired children will make a high-pitched squealing sound instead.
At 15 to 18 months, your child will probably be following simple instructions and can form very basic sentences. He may know as many as 20 words and will use them often. By the age of 2, he will enjoy being read to and should understand basic, yes-or-no questions and simple phrases like "in the cup," or "on the table." If your child does not engage in sound-focused behaviors like these, he may have hearing problems.
Remember that all kids develop at their own pace, and these schedules are just guidelines. However, children with hearing impairments quickly learn to depend on their other senses, and their parents are often unaware that their babies are reacting primarily to visual cues, like smiles, rather than the words that accompany the expression. If you have any reason to suspect that your child is not hearing properly, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician or an audiologist. Hearing tests are neither complicated nor expensive, and it is important to diagnose and correct these problems as soon as possible so that the hearing-impaired child can develop normally.
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.