Hearing loss is the most prevalent condition affecting newborns as it affects 2 to 3 infants per 1,000 live births. Newborn hearing screening was implemented as a “standard of care” policy at the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation (CHCC) thus all babies born at CHCC receive the screening. CHCC consistently screens 98% of all newborns before hospital discharge each year. The few babies that do not get a hearing screen are most often infants that are transferred off island with more serious medical conditions or in a few rare cases the family refused the hearing screening.
The Newborn Hearing Screening Program administered under the Division of Public Health is just one part of a larger, federally funded initiative, called the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Program. With the national EHDI initiative, all states and U.S. territories have established an EHDI Program that follows the 1-3-6 plan:
- All infants are screened no later than 1month of age;
- Infants who do not pass the screening for hearing loss get a full hearing evaluation no later than 3 months of age;
- Infants with a hearing loss receive intervention services no later than 6 months of age.
Infants in the CNMI are screened using Automated Auditory Brainstem Response (AABR) technology. The AABR screening test works by recording brain activity in response to a series of clicking sounds through headphones that cover the baby’s ears. Sound travels through the outer ear as vibrations. When it reaches the cochlea it is converted into an electrical signal. This travels along the auditory nerve to the brain where it processed into recognizable sounds. Three small sensors are placed on the baby and connected to the computer equipment. If the infants hearing system is working normally then the computer will report strong responses, a pass result. If there is not a strong response then the computer will indicate more testing is needed.
So, what happens if an infant does not pass the initial screening?
- The infant must come back to the Children’s Clinic for follow-up hearing screening.
- If the infant still does not pass, they are seen by an audiologist for a diagnostic / comprehensive hearing exam.
When an infant is diagnosed with a hearing loss, a referral is made to the Public School System’s Early Intervention Services Program. Infants with any degree of permanent hearing loss are automatically eligible for these essential intervention services. Hearing aids can also be fit shortly after diagnosis, if appropriate and the family elects.
Hearing loss can affect a child’s ability to develop communication, language, and social skills. The earlier children with hearing loss start receiving services, the more likely they are to reach their full potential. If you are a parent and you suspect your child has hearing loss, trust your instincts and speak with your child’s doctor and request a hearing test with an audiologist. Don’t wait!
- Universal newborn hearing screening before hospital discharge.
- Out-patient follow-up hearing screenings.
- Diagnostic hearing evaluations.
- Coordinated referrals and collaboration with early intervention services.
- Hearing aid loaner program.
- Parent-to-parent support / Family support.
Angie Mister - Audiologist
Sheilla Marie Perez - EHDI Newborn Screener & Family Support Coordinator