Three out of every 1,000 babies suffer from moderate, severe or profound hearing loss according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, making it one of the most common birth conditions in the United States.
Christine Yoshinaga-Itano is a research professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder Institute of Cognitive Science. She says early intervention is key to language skills in children with hearing loss.
“The quicker that we can get children into appropriate services, the more likely we can keep the children with language skills that are comparable to children who have normal hearing,” says Yoshinaga-Itano.
For children who did not get early access to services, the intensity of the educational services they later received didn’t matter: It was extremely difficult for them to catch up with their peers.
Yoshinaga-Itano points to Colorado as a role model for other states.
“We have a statewide system that connects with the diagnostic facility so that parents are contacted very, very quickly after the diagnosis for enrollment into early intervention,”she says.
Since Yoshinaga-Itano’s research in 1998, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has introduced 1-3-6 Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) guidelines. The guidelines recommend that children receive screening by one month of age, evaluation for hearing issues by three months and early intervention services by six months.
The program seems to have made a difference. 96 percent of babies receive screening. Yoshinaga-Itano found that children who achieve the 1-3-6 guidelines are more likely to acquire stronger vocabularies.
But there are still children who struggle.
Yoshinaga-Itano explains that economic concerns such as family leave, transportation, and expensive hearing aids prevent children from receiving timely treatment. “System” factors -- such as the quality of a state’s early intervention systems and the level urgency for identifying hearing loss among professionals -- also play a role.
Yoshinaga-Itano also recommends that adults who have hearing loss be included in the solution. The study found that children with deaf or hard of hearing parents have even better vocabularies than children that follow the 1-3-6 guidelines. Yoshinaga-Itano chalks this up to the fact that parents with hearing loss have the most knowledge about how to teach language without normal hearing.