May is Speech and Hearing Awareness Month. We spoke with Diane Bremner, director of the BC Early Hearing Program, about some myths on infant hearing and how her team is working toward achieving the best language outcomes for all young children in B.C.
The BC Early Hearing Program (BCEHP) is a province-wide screening program that checks hearing for babies born in B.C. The program provides integrated services from hearing screening to hearing testing as well as early language support following identification of hearing loss.
Diane, an audiologist, was part of the group that founded BCEHP back in 2005. “We began screening babies in the neonatal intensive care units in B.C. hospitals in 2006, then implemented screening as part of the Well Baby program in 2007,” Diane remembers. “We rolled out the complete screening program for every baby born in the province in 2009.” 2019 marks ten years of hearing screening and testing in B.C.
A decade of developing, improving and perfecting a hearing screening program has allowed Diane to meet dozens of families, train multiple screeners and audiologists and dispel many myths about infant hearing. Here are some of the main myths she’s encountered:
My baby passed the newborn hearing screening, so I don’t have to worry she will develop hearing loss later.
“Hearing loss can be present at birth or can develop at any age
,” Diane says. “For every 100 babies identified with hearing loss at birth, there is evidence that an additional 50 babies will develop permanent hearing loss by school age.” Diane stresses that it is important for parents keep a close eye on their child’s speech and language development
, and seek further hearing testing for their child if they have any concerns.
My baby failed the newborn hearing screening and needed a hearing assessment. Now that we know there’s permanent hearing loss, there’s not much we can do until she’s older and starts talking. We can put off dealing with hearing loss until we’re ready.
“Language learning starts immediately at birth, with a strong foundation rooted in early interactions between caregivers and infants,” Diane explains. “Early intervention and access to language is crucial. The reason we screen hearing in newborns is because there is so much parents can do when their baby is identified early as deaf or hard of hearing, even if they are not noticing their baby having any difficulties.”
Specialized service providers can help parents monitor their child’s development and become comfortable with hearing aid use. They can also provide strategies that promote optimal language and communication development. BCEHP is integrated with these specialized services and can connect families with further support.
Parents will know if their child has a hearing loss by a few months of age. You can test hearing at home by banging pots or clapping hands.
“Only an audiologist with specialized training can perform the tests necessary to detect the type, degree and configuration of hearing loss for infants and help parents understand the impact of the hearing loss on the infant’s access to speech and language in their environment,” Diane says. Family members, physicians or ear specialists cannot tell you what sounds a baby is able to hear.
We don’t have any hearing loss in our family, so our baby should be fine.
BCEHP identifies roughly 100 babies per year with permanent hearing loss. Well over half are born healthy, with no risk factors for hearing loss including no family history of hearing loss.
Children under a year old cannot wear hearing aids.
“Babies as young as three months old are routinely fit with hearing aids within the BCEHP with good success,” Diane says. “In B.C., when hearing aids are considered beneficial for children birth to 5 years of age, BCEHP provides funding for hearing aids, batteries, and earmolds and also funds early language services such as one-to-one sessions with speech and language specialists and sign language instructors, and parent support. It is important to start these services as early as possible, whether or not hearing equipment is used. ”
We have deaf/hard of hearing family members, so we are familiar with hearing loss. Our child won’t need any additional support.
Over 95 per cent of children who are deaf or hard of hearing are born to hearing parents. “The BCEHP is a circle of support for families who are facing hearing loss, whether you are familiar with deafness or not,” Diane says. “With community and provincial service partners, BCEHP can offer a helping hand and connections to the right services for you and your child.”