Hamilton Center Inc.'s Early Head Start Otoacoustic Emissions

Most parents assume their infant can hear, "I love you," along with all the other sounds that fill a child's life – music, birds singing, and the whispers of a caring grandparent. But many children cannot hear all of those sounds. At birth, 1 of every 300 babies has a permanent hearing loss. By 6 years of age, 2 of every 300 children are not able to hear clearly in one or both ears. Imagine how crushing it would be as a parent to learn that your child was one who had been struggling for many months, or even years, to hear your voice.

Parents of children attending Early Head Start in Vigo County no longer need to worry about their child's ability to hear. Infants and toddlers are having their hearing checked using Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) hearing screening technology. This quick, painless, and reliable method can be used by nurses, teachers and other trained professionals. Children who do not pass the OAE screening are referred to an audiologist who can perform a complete evaluation. If a child has a hearing loss, the audiologist can help parents to learn about the many intervention options that are now available. Early diagnosis and appropriate intervention is the key to normal development.

Because hearing is so important, newborns in the U.S. now receive a hearing screening before leaving the hospital. Parents generally assume that their child's hearing will be checked again during well-child visits. This is usually not the case, however. Health care providers routinely look for ear infections, but most do not have OAE equipment to screen for hearing loss. Many providers simply question parents about a child's ability to hear. Others may perform an informal test by watching whether the child reacts to a hand clap or other noise. Children with hearing loss, who often have some degree of hearing, may turn toward some sounds, leading adults to believe they hear better than they do. Informal methods cannot detect hearing loss that can be identified by OAE screening.

The Hamilton Center Early Head Start developed its OAE screening practices with assistance from The Early Childhood Hearing Outreach (ECHO) Initiative. This Initiative is funded by the Office of Head Start and the Maternal and Child Health Bureau as the National Resource Center on Early Hearing Detection and Intervention. The ECHO Initiative is helping early childhood programs around the country to identify children with hearing loss early and to help children, and their families, get the help they need.

Information for health and education professionals is available at kidshearing.org. Information for parents is found at hearandnow.org.

If you would like more information about this topic or to schedule an interview with staff, please call Drue Holtkamp at 812-231-8114 or email at dholtkam@hamiltoncenter.org

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