May 17, 2006 -- Testing the hearing of all babies may ultimately boost the language skills of hearing-impaired kids.
Researchers from the U.K. report that news in The New England Journal of Medicine. The University of Southampton's Colin Kennedy, MD, MB, BS, and colleagues studied 120 children with permanent hearing impairment in both ears.
None of the children had hearing impairments known to have started after birth. All were born and lived in the U.K. Sixty one kids were born when the U.K. offered universal newborn screening for hearing problems.
All in all, 57 babies had their hearing impairment confirmed by the time they were 9 months old. The other 63 babies had their hearing impairment confirmed after they were 9 months old.
Kids born when the U.K. offered universal hearing screening for newborns were more likely to have their hearing impairments confirmed by the time they were 9 months old.
Language Skills Tested
When the kids were nearly 8 years old, they took tests of their receptive and expressive language skills. Here's how the researchers describe those skills:
- Normal receptive language is the ability to understand communication through gestures, facial expressions, and words.
- Expressive language is the ability to express needs with gestures, vocalization, facial expressions, and words.
Children who had had their hearing problems diagnosed before they were 9 months old scored better for receptive language skills and for expressive language ability (excluding speech).
Longer follow-up is needed to see if those skills last and lead to better academic achievement, write Kennedy and colleagues. They note that all of the children had been offered services including hearing aids.
"The astonishing spread of universal programs to screen newborns for hearing defects throughout the world has truly been a revolution in health care," write Cynthia Morton, PhD, and Walter Nance, MD, PhD, in another article in the journal.
"With the advent of newborn screening, the average age at which hearing loss is confirmed has dropped from 24 to 30 months to 2 to 3 months," write Morton and Nance, who weren't involved in the British study.
In the U.S., "early hearing detection and intervention programs have been established in every state in the union, are mandated in at least 39 states, and provide audiologic screening for nearly 93% of all newborn infants," write Morton and Nance.
Morton works in the obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology departments of Boston's Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Nance works in Richmond, Va., in the human genetics department of the Medical College of Virginia, part of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Morton and Nance call universal newborn hearing screening programs "successful," though they write that such programs "would greatly benefit" from measures such as standardizing testing protocols and immediately confirming abnormal test results.