16 March 2009

Hearing screening of newborns improves speech development

The first reports about the long-term effects of hearing screening of newborns have been published. The findings are positive. They confirm that early intervention based on hearing screenings is beneficial for the speech development of hearing impaired children.

Hearing screening of newborns is a prerequisite for the early intervention and support needed by hearing impaired children. Early intervention is beneficial for the children's speech, educational, social and emotional development.

This has always been the main argument in favour of the universal newborn hearing screening programmes, first implemented in the 1990's and still being introduced around the world. Uruguay is among the countries currently preparing to offer hearing screening of all newborns. The first reports about the long-term effects of these programmes have been issued. They conclude that hearing screening works as advertised.

Vlandern: 85 percent in mainstream schools

In the Vlandern region of Belgium, all newborns have been hearing screened since 1998. The vast majority of newborns found to have hearing loss in screenings between 1998 and 2003 made it into mainstream schools, according to a recent evaluation of these children's speech and educational development.

85 percent of the children five and a half years of age or older and with no other disability than hearing loss go to mainstream schools. Among those, whose hearing loss was treated with a cochlear implant, 79 percent attend mainstream schools.

The researchers behind this study concluded that early intervention in hearing impaired children may improve language outcomes and subsequent school and occupational performance.

USA: Screening benefits speech development

In the United States, hearing screenings became common practice following a recommendation made by the US Preventive Services Task Force in 2001. By 2006, 46 of the 50 states had hearing screening programmes.

A new report, based on a survey of scientific articles about hearing screening, published since 2002, confirmed that children with hearing loss who had universal newborn hearing screening have better language outcome at school age than those not screened.

In particular, the ability to listen and understand speech is supported by early intervention following hearing screening. Children whose hearing loss was identified early, and children who had hearing screenings as newborns were found at 8 years of age to be better at listening and understanding speech than those whose hearing loss was discovered late and children who had not been hearing screened. No difference was found between the two groups in terms of speech ability and language.

Sources: International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology; Pediatrics; www.infanthearing.org

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