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When a Newborn Doesn't Pass the Hearing Screening?


Each year, approximately 12,000 babies are born with hearing loss in the United States. If hearing loss is discovered during the “critical period” for children to develop their speech and language skills—from birth to the first two to three years of life—they will have a much better chance of keeping up with their peers in learning language and speech skills. If they miss this critical period of development, they can fall far behind their peers in these areas. This delay, in turn, can affect a child’s ability to learn and interact socially.

Medical and allied health professionals across the United States have played a vital role in helping identify hearing loss during a child’s first months of life. As of July 2003, mandatory newborn hearing screening programs have been implemented in 38 states and the District of Columbia. As a result, roughly 86.5 percent of all infants are now screened for hearing loss, usually before they leave the hospital.

But screening is only the beginning of a successful path for infants who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Newborns who don’t pass the screening should receive an audiometric evaluation and medical diagnosis before the child is three months of age. An audiologist is a health professional who conducts a series of tests to determine whether the child has a hearing problem and, if so, the type and severity of that problem. An otolaryngologist, or ear, nose, and throat doctor, will try to find out the reason behind a hearing loss and offer treatment options. These professionals will help direct parents or other caregivers to resources that can help them. (See the NIDCD fact sheet

In the year 2000, only approximately half of the children who were referred for a follow-up examination were brought back for one. Parents of deaf or hard-of-hearing children in this group were much less likely to take advantage of the many resources that could give their children the best start possible and the best long-term outcome

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