I came upon this infographic from the National Institute of Deafness & Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) ( https://www.nidcd.nih.gov) while I was doing some research. When you see the changes in how the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) identifies children who are deaf/hard of hearing it’s amazing – moving from a focus on screening only those children who had high risk factors, to screening for virtually all newborns in the United States.
I know this is a good thing, but I still get a pang in my heart when I see such near perfect statistics like this. In my opinion, having a 98% screening rate can be a dangerous thing. It can plant the seed in people’s minds that all children who are deaf/hard of hearing are caught at early stages. That they will automatically follow the suggested trajectory of being screened for hearing loss by 1 month; have a follow up by 3 months; and receive intervention services by 6 months, as suggested by the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing.
Not all hearing loss and identification progresses in this neat linear manner. My son’s pediatrician was lulled into thinking that it couldn’t be hearing loss that contributed to his late acquisition of speech. He has passed his UNHS – I didn’t need to worry.
But hearing loss can enter the life of a child at any time and it’s this fact that needs to be reinforced in the minds of those on the “front line” in working with children – pediatricians, early childhood providers, social workers.
My son was diagnosed with moderate to severe bilateral sensorineural hearing loss at the age of three. I had been questioning his lack of speech since he was 14 months old. All our pediatrician needed to do was to say “Here’s a referral to a pediatric audiologist.” Instead, she placated me with “Don’t worry. He’s a boy. He’s a second child. He’s a late talker.”
I am all for the use of UNHS and the fact that it is able to identify so many children prior to leaving the hospital. However, it’s just as important to be aware that birth is not the only time in a child’s life when hearing loss can be identified.