Hearing loss is the most commonly occurring disability in U.S. infants, with a rate of two to three per 1,000 infants. That translates into as many as 20,000 babies a year.
The consequences of late detection are significant and can result in lifelong communication, social, psychological, behavioral, and educational problems. Research has shown that babies who are identified with hearing loss and receive intervention services within six months of age outperform (at 40 months) those babies who were identified and received services after six months of age.
For more than 40 years, researchers and clinicians across the country have struggled to solve the dilemma of how to identify hearing loss in newborn babies in a quick and cost-effective manner. In 1993, Rhode Island legislation mandating universal newborn hearing screening took effect, and the Rhode Island Hearing Assessment Program (RIHAP) based at Women & Infants, became the first public health program of its kind in the United States. Since that time, RIHAP has screened 99 percent of Rhode Island’s newborn babies (14,000 annually) for hearing loss.
Quick, harmless and non-invasive, the hearing screening is performed by a technician or nurse, and results are reviewed and interpreted by an audiologist. The results may indicate a need for an additional screen. Parents receive a phone call from the staff to come back for this screen at the hospital. The baby's doctor is notified of this by mail.
It is unlikely that a child has a serious hearing loss. However, if the results suggest an actual hearing loss, this program has designed a referral and follow-up program in order to assure the best and earliest possible intervention.
The results of the newborn hearing screen show how an infant hears at the time of the screen. Some infants with recurrent ear infections, serious infections, chronic illness or a family history of hearing loss may develop hearing loss later in the first few years of life. If a parent has concerns about their child’s hearing ability or language development, the audiologist or family doctor should be contacted.