May 18, 2006

Detecting deafness early doesn’t help speech

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Detecting and addressing
hearing impairment in the first few months of life can improve
the ability to understand and use language, but it seems to
have little effect on speech, new research indicates.

The US, UK, and other countries have implemented universal
screening of newborns for hearing impairment, but the effect of
these programs on verbal abilities later in childhood are

The present study, which is reported in The New England
Journal of Medicine, involved 120 children with bilateral
hearing impairment who had their language and speech ability
assessed at around 8 years of age. Sixty-three age-matched
children with normal hearing served as a comparison group.

Roughly half of the subjects were born during periods when
universal newborn screening was in effect and half were not,
Dr. Colin R. Kennedy, from Southampton General Hospital in the
UK, and colleagues note. Fifty-seven subjects had their hearing
loss confirmed by 9 months of age and 63 had it confirmed after
9 months.

Hearing loss confirmation by 9 months of age was tied to
higher scores for both receptive and expressive language.
Newborn screening for hearing loss had a similar effect on
receptive language, but fell short of statistical significance
for expressive language.

As noted, neither newborn screening nor early confirmation
of hearing loss had a significant effect on speech scores, the
investigators found.

Longer follow-up is needed to see if children with early
detection of hearing loss "have higher academic achievement and
continue to show superior language skills at high-school age,"
the authors conclude.

SOURCE: New England Journal of Medicine, May 18, 2006.