Looking back, Andrea Beharry of Brampton, Ont., says there were indications that her son Christian, now six, wasn’t hearing her as he should. “He was very quiet. He didn’t coo like other babies. But when it’s your first child, you don’t know what to look for. The signs were all there, but we just weren’t picking up on them.”
As he got older, Christian began saying a few words, but at 15 months he lost them all, says the mom of two. “That’s when we took him to the doctor and said ‘something is wrong.” Sadly, Christian had fallen through the cracks and missed having his hearing screened before he left the hospital after his premature birth at 34 weeks. Finally, at age three, after numerous doctor’s appointments and rounds of testing, Christian was diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss.
According to Gael Hannan, manager of programs for The Hearing Foundation of Canada, approximately three in 1,000 babies in Canada are born with a degree of hearing loss. “Most parents are not even thinking whether their child has [it],” she says. “The signs are not always distinguishable in infants and toddlers and are often misinterpreted or misdiagnosed as other issues such as behavioural problems or cognitive issues.”
Fortunately, virtually all babies in Canada will have their hearing screened before they are discharged from the hospital. However, if your child did not have a hearing screening test before leaving the hospital for any reason, or if you are uncertain whether he passed the hearing screening, be sure to follow this up with your child’s doctor immediately.
If your newborn has passed the hearing screenings this is a great start, says Michael Schamber an audiologist in Mississauga, Ont. Parents should continue to monitor their newborn’s hearing as he grows since a loss may develop due to illness (such as meningitis or rubella), the use of ototoxic medications during surgery or critical care, excessive noise exposure (make sure toys have volume control or an on/off switch), perinatal infections such as toxoplasmosis, hereditary factors or a head injury. An often overlooked cause of mild hearing loss is middle ear infections (otitis media). If you are concerned about your baby’s recurring ear infections and his hearing, ask your doctor.
A failed hearing screening should be followed up, but don’t automatically assume the worst. As Schamber explains, there are many reasons a newborn may not pass, including fluid from the birthing process in the outer ear canal, fluid in the middle ear or an incomplete screening due to too much squirming during the test. A second test and appointment with an audiologist will help determine if there is another reason for the negative result. Follow-up is always recommended until a pass is obtained for both ears.
Schamber says it’s important to remember that children do develop differently. “Hearing, like speech, can mature smoothly and quickly or in jumps and starts. Comparing your child’s progress to another child’s is not an accurate measure of whether there might be an issue.”
This story is part of our New Baby Guide. Check it out for more info on bringing home, planning for and surviving having a new baby.