Early intervention aids vocabulary in babies with hearing loss

Nearly 17 years after early detection guidelines for infant hearing loss were established, half of all babies with hearing loss are not meeting those guidelines.
By Amy Wallace  |  July 13, 2017 at 1:15 PM
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July 13 (UPI) -- A study by the University of Colorado at Boulder has found that the earlier the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss in infants, the better the outcome.

Researchers found children with hearing loss who were diagnosed at 3 months of age and received interventions by 6 months had a greater vocabulary than those whose diagnosis and treatment came later.

"We still have some work to do," Christine Yoshinaga-Itano, an audiologist and research professor in the Institute of Cognitive Science, said in a press release. "Because the brain is so pliable in those early months, the sooner we can get them diagnosed and get them access to language, the more likely they will be able to develop on track with their peers."

The study, published in the July edition of Pediatrics, is the first multi-state study assessing the impact of Early Hearing Detection Intervention, or EHDI, 1-3-6 guidelines that were established in 2000.

The EHDI recommends all newborn babies be screened for hearing loss within the first month of life and that those who test positive for hearing loss be evaluated by a specialist within three months, with interventions started by six months.

Researchers found that while 96 percent of infants in the United States are screened for hearing loss by one month, many who are diagnosed with hearing loss do not meet the second and third steps of diagnosis and intervention in the three to six month guideline.

"We can't change how much hearing a child has at birth or the educational background of a parent, but we can develop better systems," Yoshinaga-Itano said. "Policymakers need to do whatever they can to make transitions from one step to another as seamless as possible so parents can meet the 1-3-6. And parents should know that there is an urgency to assuring that children who are deaf or hard of hearing have access to language as quickly as possible."

Researchers analyzed 448 children with hearing loss in both ears between 8 months to 39 months of age in 12 states. The study showed that 58 percent of the study participants met the EHDI 1-3-6 guidelines.

The study found that on the Vocabulary Quotient score out of 100, children with hearing loss who met the guidelines for intervention scored 82, while those with hearing loss who did not meet the early intervention guidelines scored below 70, ranking in the lowest 10 percent.

"We showed that failure to diagnose hearing loss early can create an environmentally induced and preventable secondary disability, making children function much like children with cognitive delay," Yoshinaga-Itano said.

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