Far too often, children who do poorly in school and cannot communicate properly are unfairly labeled as lazy or dumb. This can be far from the truth when unrecognized early hearing loss is often the cause.
In the U.S., 1-3 out of 1000 newborns have a hearing deficit at birth. These kids often find uneven playing fields in academics and sports as they grow up, not to mention the bullying that they become vulnerable to. Getting the appropriate support they need used to be difficult, though affirmative programs, community-level regulations, and advancements in healthcare have made it more accessible.
The latter of the three achieves its best outcomes through early intervention. It involves not only diagnosis but medical or surgical treatment, speech and language therapy, auditory training, and devices like early hearing aids or cochlear implants.
Providers like Attune Hearing, among others, have made great headways in bringing such forms of aid closer to communities. Working with them will be crucial in giving a child with early hearing problems a great shot at life.
But what exactly is early intervention, and how can you accomplish it for your little one? This article will provide the basics of what you need to know.
The Importance Of Early Intervention
Early intervention refers to identifying and addressing problems (in this case, early hearing loss) in children as early as possible. Ideally, this happens before six months and certainly within their first year.
Various factors, such as genetic and congenital disabilities, infections, environmental exposure, medication, loud noises, and trauma, can cause or predispose kids to hearing loss. The effects are subtle, especially as your kid is still developing. But there are some signs you can watch out for in infants. These include:
- Not getting startled by loud noises
- Not turning toward sound sources by six months
- An inability to say single words, like ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ by one year
As mentioned, hearing loss can have a significant impact on a child’s development. It can affect their speech and language skills, social interactions, and academic performance. By providing help as early as possible, you can help your child adapt and overcome.
What Early Intervention Does
By immediately addressing your kid’s early hearing problems, you allow them to enjoy the following benefits:
Improved Language And Communication
Early intervention provides children with the tools and support necessary to develop age-appropriate language and communication skills. Through specialized therapy and appropriate use of amplification devices, they can still learn to express themselves and understand others effectively.
A Smoother Time With Socialization
Hearing loss can sometimes lead to social isolation and difficulty connecting with peers. That’s why early intervention programs focus not only on speech and language development but also on social skills. By addressing these aspects early on, children with hearing loss can build bonds and participate fully in social activities.
With how standard classes work, kids with hearing loss face certain difficulties. Luckily, early intervention can provide the necessary accommodations and resources to help them keep up with their peers academically. More institutions are evolving their curriculums to support the needs of disabled students, as well.
From here, one can already see just how beneficial early intervention can be to lifting the lives of kids with hearing problems. There’s no shortage of options today as long as you know where to look.
How Screening And Diagnosis Works
When you put your child in a hearing loss early intervention program, you can expect to work with eye, ear, and nose (ENT) doctors and audiologists. To assess their condition and create the ideal care plans, they may conduct some of the following procedures:
Newborn Hearing Screening
Newborn hearing screening programs are in place in many countries to identify infant hearing loss. This test is typically performed shortly after birth before the baby leaves the hospital.
If a child fails the initial screening, further tests are done to determine the degree and type of hearing loss. Two methods are commonly used:
Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs)
This test measures sounds produced by the inner ear in response to a click or tone stimulus. A lack of response may indicate hearing loss.
Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR)
It measures the electrical activity of the auditory nerve up to the brainstem in response to sound. The child wears earphones, and electrodes are placed on their head to record brain activity. Deviations from normal readings indicate hearing loss.
Diagnostic Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR)
This is a more detailed version of the AABR, used to estimate hearing sensitivity and better identify the type of hearing loss.
Tympanometry is a test used to detect disorders of the middle ear. It measures the eardrum’s movement in response to changes in air pressure. Specialists use it to identify issues like ear infections or fluid in the ear, which are common causes of hearing loss in children.
This test is often used with older children who can reliably respond to sounds. The child wears headphones and is asked to respond (usually with an action like pressing a button) when they hear a series of tones at different pitches and volumes.
This test evaluates a kid’s ability to hear and understand speech. The child listens to a series of words at different volumes and is asked to repeat them.
Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs) Test
Specialists use this for infants and children who have difficulty with behavior-based hearing tests. It measures the sounds produced by the inner ear in response to a stimulus. If these sounds are not produced, it may indicate hearing loss.
Visual Reinforcement Audiometry (VRA) and Conditioned Play Audiometry (CPA)
These are behavioral hearing tests adapted for young children.
In VRA, the child is trained to look towards a sound source, and a visual reward (like a toy lighting up) is given when they respond correctly. Meanwhile, CPA involves teaching a child to perform a task (like placing a block in a bucket) each time they hear a sound.
Getting these tests early makes it easier to get your child started on recommended treatments or adaptations. Make sure to cooperate with the care team to get the best results and corresponding advice.
Other Aspects Of Early Intervention
After analyzing the results, specialists can diagnose and classify your child’s case of hearing loss. It may be sensorineural (related to the inner ear or auditory nerve), conductive (related to the middle or outer ear), or mixed (a combination of both).
Knowing this guides the development of a personalized care plan for the child, including using implants, speech therapy, and other relevant services.
Once that is settled, you may be expected to work on the following aspects:
After a formal diagnosis, a plan is developed in collaboration with the child’s family, healthcare provider, and educators. It outlines the goals and strategies for intervention based on the child’s specific needs.
Early intervention may include a range of therapies and interventions, such as speech and language therapy, auditory training, and assistive listening devices. These aim to stimulate language development, improve communication skills, and enhance auditory processing.
Family Involvement And Support
Early intervention recognizes the importance of involving the kid’s loved ones as much as possible.
Parents play a critical role in their child’s development. So, they’re provided with support and resources to enhance their understanding and ability to meet their child’s unique needs.
Intervention does not stop at the clinic. It truly does ‘take a village to raise a child.’ As long as you work with the experts, remain transparent and realistic with the process, and go at your kid’s pace, improving their quality of life despite their disability is always within reach.
Work With The Experts
Learning that your child has a hearing disability is difficult. But it’s no cause for despair. With the appropriate early intervention, you can still help them progress in their growth while preventing developmental delays.
If you suspect your child has hearing loss, get recommendations from their pediatrician to get them started on an early intervention program. Research your options for other vital things like financing and schooling, as well.