Feature Archive

Hearing Trouble

A simple test can help.

WebMD Feature

July 24, 2000 -- Veronica Miller was only 1 year old when her mother, Laura, first began to worry about her hearing. Veronica didn't seem to respond when her parents called out her name. And she rarely babbled or made baby talk like other kids her age. But her pediatrician said some children start to recognize speech patterns slower than others; he advised the family to wait and see what happened in a month. A month later, the doctor repeated the same advice. Frustrated, Miller took the girl to an audiologist for a hearing test and found out Veronica's hearing was profoundly impaired in both ears.

"I couldn't believe it," said the East Meadow, N.Y., mother. "I was in total denial. She always seemed like such a happy baby. It just kind of tricked us."

Many parents with hearing-impaired infants share Miller's experience -- they are simply unaware that their new baby can't hear. In fact, hearing impairment is the most common birth defect in the United States, striking three of every 1,000 babies born here. Yet at a time when new technologies can make a profound difference in a hearing-impaired child's ability to hear, only 35% of newborns receive a simple hearing test before they leave the hospital. The result: Most children who have a hearing impairment aren't diagnosed until they reach 30 months, a delay that can have lasting consequences.

Early Connections in Tiny Brains

"When a baby is born, it responds to auditory stimulation by making connections within the brain," says Karl White, PhD, director of the National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management (NCHAM) at Utah State University. "These connections are essential for language development, and if this doesn't happen within the first few months of life, it may never happen the way that it should." The longer you wait, the more damage there will be to the child's ability to process language, says White.