Giving Voice To Deaf Children

Each day, more than 30 kids are born with hearing loss in the United States -- making it the most common birth defect. Special education services for these children can top $1 million. Now, a new study tracks how these children can learn to listen, talk and read.

For Khristi Bowman, story time with twins Mollie and Nate is a blessing. The pair were born at the same time, yet Nate knows there’s something different about his sister.

"If we’re twins, we should not be twins because she has ears, but I don’t… medical ears,” Nate said.

Molly, like 12,000 other babies each year, was born with severe hearing loss. At just 2, she got cochlear implant surgery.

“When I take them off, I couldn’t hear, and I can put them back on, and I can hear,” Molly said.

“It was a big decision to make for her, because ultimately that’s what we were doing. We were making it for her and her future, and we didn’t even know if we were doing the right thing,” Khristi Bowman said.

Audiologist Tamala Bradham, from Vanderbilt University, hears that all too often.

"From all the families that I’ve worked with through the years, they’ve always asked, 'What does this mean for my child?'” Bradham said.

Answers may be coming. A new landmark study is following more than 2,000 deaf kids as they learn to communicate. The focus: diagnosing hearing loss early.

A newborn hearing tests costs a hospital less than $50 a baby. However, just 28 states mandate screening of all babies. Fail to catch hearing loss early, and your kid may suffer delays in vocabulary comprehension.

While 30-month-olds who hear learn up to 120 words a month, a 30-month-old deaf child learns one word per month.

For Bradham, it’s personal.

“I’ve grown up with a hearing loss as well, and knowing what my family went through and really not understanding hearing loss, I just really want to make sure that families have information,” Bradham said.

Knowing how youngsters like Molly learn and adapt could be life-changing. She starts mainstream kindergarten this fall.

Research shows kids with hearing loss in even one ear are 10-times more likely to be held back one grade compared to their normal-hearing peers. If screened at birth, infants can be fit with amplification devices at less than 1 month old. Vanderbilt University’s hearing study is taking place in conjunction with 50 other schools in three countries.

Research Summary

BACKGROUND: At birth, a baby immediately begins to use the five senses to take in information about his or her new surroundings. The sense of hearing is especially important, as it is crucial to developing language skills. Unfortunately, three out of every 1000 babies are born with a hearing defect, and nearly half of those aren't screened for a hearing test until their second year of life. Therefore, it's up to the parents to detect early signs of infant hearing loss. Though babies have different responses to sound in the first stages of life, there are some guidelines for making sure your baby can hear. At birth your baby should startle or awaken at loud noises and appear to listen to voices. By three months, babies usually cry differently for different needs, turn towards interesting sounds, and smile when spoken to, and by six months, a baby should respond to his or her name, say a lot of different sounds, turn his or her head in response to different sounds, and react to changes in your tone of voice. At one year, a baby should try to imitate different speech sounds, say his or her first words, understand simple requests, and know words for common items. If your child does have permanent hearing loss, the earlier it's detected, the earlier you can get help.

COCHLEAR IMPLANTS: A cochlear implant is a device that will allow a profoundly deaf person to hear. The cochlear implant is a two part device; one part is external and another is internal, and is placed under the skin via surgery. A cochlear implant works differently from a hearing aid; while a hearing aid amplifies sounds so that the user can hear them, the cochlear implant works by stimulating the auditory nerve. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, approximately 42,600 adults and 28,400 children have received cochlear implants as of December, 2010. A cochlear implant uses a microphone to pick up sounds from the environment, which are then selected and arranged by a speech processor. The sounds are then sent from the speech processor to the transmitter and receiver/stimulator and are converted into electrical impulses that are sent to different regions of the auditory nerve via an electrode array. When the auditory nerve is stimulated, the brain recognizes it as sound, allowing the deaf person to hear.


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