It finds those kids don’t learn to speak or communicate as well as others who have good hearing.
Researcher Beth Walker says children who were fitted with hearing aids at a very young age developed language skills much more quickly.
“We did find that these hearing aids really do have an impact on language outcome,” Walker says. “They need to be fit as early as possible, worn consistently during all waking hours and fit appropriately.”
The study involved children from 17 states, ranging in age from six months to seven years. It’s the first time such a study has been undertaken since universal newborn hearing screening wasn’t available to most children at birth until about a decade ago. Those screenings, Walker says, are vital.
“Ninety-eight percent of all infants are screened for hearing loss at birth, so we want to get all of those babies screened as soon as possible,” Walker says. “We can do this when they are as young as two or three days old. That will allow us to identify the hearing loss very early on and then we can provide the intervention that they need.”
While there is a wealth of study on deaf children, before this study, Walker says little was known about hard-of-hearing kids. It’s important for a child with hearing loss to get the hearing aid as early as possible, but she says it’s equally important for that device to fit properly.
“Children’s ears grow very quickly,” Walker says. “With kids, we’ll have them wear behind-the-ear hearing aids. They’ll have an ear mold and then the hearing aid will go behind the ear and with their ears growing so fast, we have to have those ear molds replaced pretty frequently.”
In an infant, that could mean visits to the audiologist every three to six months for fittings, and less often as the child ages. Walker says about one-third of the study’s hearing-impaired children were not well-fitted with hearing aids.
The Outcomes of Children with Hearing Loss study was conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa, Boys Town National Research Hospital, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It’s being published in the journal, Ear and Hearing, the major journal published by the American Auditory Society.
Click on this VIDEO to see a demonstration of the findings.