From the earliest days of life, babies begin developing speech and language skills. They learn by listening and interacting with voices and the variety of sounds in their environment. Hearing loss, however, is easily missed during these first stages of life—a critical phase of language development. Newborn screening tests to detect hearing loss and follow-up preventive intervention programs are now available to help sidestep speech development delays that could affect a newborn's future social, emotional, and educational development.
Causes of Hearing Loss
According to a 2006 National Institute of Health (NIH) report, two or three out of every 1,000 infants born in the US are born deaf or with some degree of hearing loss. Dr. Lynn Spivak, MD, director of the Hearing and Speech Center at Long Island Jewish/Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park and assistant professor of otolaryngology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, states that hearing loss can result from a number of medical conditions.
"About 50 percent of congenital hearing loss is genetic, and 50 percent is acquired," says Dr. Spivak. "The most common causes of acquired hearing loss come from in-utero or postnatal infection, premature birth, or diseases such as rubella and meningitis." Other babies who may be born with or develop hearing loss include those with birth defects or exposed to drugs in the womb.
But recent research indicates that infants diagnosed before the age of six months and treated through intervention programs can develop language skills (spoken and/or signed) on a level with their hearing peers.