Hearing Screening For Newborns Brings Results

A pilot scheme in the UK which aims to improve service co-ordination for children with deafness, is expected to be underway by early 2010.

The Local Record of Deaf Children in the UK seeks to improve services and raise awareness of the numbers of young people living with hearing loss. Information will be shared by state agencies to maximise supports offered.

On a visit to Donaldson’s School, Linlithgow (Scotland), which teaches deaf students, Public Health Minister Shona Robison said:

“Early identification of hearing loss in children provides an opportunity for a range of agencies to be involved in their support, improved development and educational attainment.”

Hearing screening is already in place at designated hospitals in the UK and some families’ stories show how valuable early detection can be. Kate Cadman explains how her daughter Beatrice benefited from early detection.

Just days after birth, Beatrice was screened for hearing loss and her mother recalls the shock and fear she felt.

“For months I awoke with a boot-in-the-gut feeling as I relived the shock of being told. Would Beatrice ever hear my voice? Would she make friends and be happy? What about schooling? A feeling of isolation swept over me. I felt it was impossible to communicate with Beatrice: I could hug and cuddle her but I desperately needed to bond with her”.

At just 10 weeks old, Beatrice received her first set of hearing aids. Her parents were advised to start learning sign language and were told this would be the only way to communicate with her. However they decided against this, feeling it would benefit their daughter in the long run.

Before long Beatrice was getting frustrated as her hearing worsened. Kate was advised to contact a charity near Oxford that works with deaf preschoolers. Realising it might be the only option for Beatrice, she made a phone call and was told to get the best technology available and to start language lessons immediately.

Through this approach, Beatrice learnt to recognise her own name and it was all uphill from there.

Five-year-old Beatrice now communicates by speech and her diction is clear. She has started at a mainstream school where she has made friends and has even begun to learn French.

As Kate says “Now, instead of wanting to stamp on her hearing-aids, as I did at first, I love them. They open up Beatrice’s world. Her moulds have gold sparkles on them and we call them her magic ears. We always believed that deafness should not overshadow Beatrice’s character or preclude her from any opportunity in life. It hasn’t.”

Background Reading: News release from the Scottish government

Note: In Ireland, DeafHear has for some years campaigned to have UNHS (Universal Newborn Hearing Screening) introduced at hospitals. As an interim measure, DeafHear offers a UNHS service by appointment at its North Frederick Street premises in Dublin.

Early identification of deafness, hearing devices from an early age and language teaching are all essential to give a deaf child a positive head-start in life. UNHS facilitates this process by giving families time to plan the best approach for the child’s needs.

(compiled by Miriam Walsh)

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