Early hearing screening: When studies prove it right

August 13, 2015

Dépistage auditif précoce

For many years, organizations such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH, 1993) and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA, 1991) have been recommending early hearing screening and intervention. Despite this, children diagnosed with hearing loss in the United States are already between 18 months and two and a half years old on average.

How could these children’s lives have been improved had hearing loss been detected earlier?

Researchers Yoshinaga-Itano and Apuzzo (1998) wanted to know the real impacts of late hearing screening on the development of hard-of-hearing children. To this end they created two groups: Group A, comprising 15 children whose hearing loss was detected before they were 6 months old, and Group B, comprising 25 children diagnosed with hearing loss after the age of 18 months. When the children all reached 40 months, the researchers tested and compared their performance in seven development spheres: overall development, gross and fine motor skills, expressive language, conceptual understanding, situational understanding, and social skills.

The impact of waiting too long

The study highlighted differences related to the age of the children at the time of diagnosis, including significant differences in expressive language and conceptual understanding, and considerable differences in overall development.

For instance, children from Group A showed a developmental age of 32 months for expressive language and 34 months for conceptual understanding, which represents a delay of 8 and 6 months respectively — a result that remains within acceptable limits.

As for children from Group B, their developmental age was estimated at 26 months for expressive language and 28 months for conceptual understanding, which represents a delay of 14 and 12 months respectively.

Group A performed better than Group B in six of the seven spheres tested, even though only three of the tests were directly related to hearing.

This study highlights the negative impact of late hearing loss diagnosis and intervention, as well as the fact that this impact far exceeds the spheres directly related to hearing.

One thing is for sure: hearing aid fitting is key in the intervention plan, no matter when it occurs in the child’s life. Hearing aids must be chosen carefully from among the numerous types on the market, and must feature functionalities suited for a child’s evolving needs.

For more details on the hearing aid models most appropriate for your child, consult an audiologist.

YOSHINAGA-ITANO, C. and M.-R. Apuzzo (1998). “Identification of hearing loss after age 18 months is not early enough.” American Annals of the Deaf, December 1998; 143, 5; Health Module, p. 380.