Early Identification and Intervention:
The Journey Starts Here

By Janet DesGeorges

With the advent of Newborn Hearing Systems sweeping the nation, more babies are now being identified with deafness or hearing loss earlier than ever before. Historically, 50% of children with a degree of deafness were not identified through the high risk registry, so the identification of hearing loss typically came through delays in speech after 12 months of age, or through parental concern. With the newborn hearing screening system, parents who had no concerns about hearing are finding out through a simple and routine "test" that their child is deaf or hard of hearing. This sequence of events puts into motion a different journey for a family than they had anticipated, to say the least.

For parents, why is it important for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to be identified as soon as possible? Why should a parent immediately start early intervention with their child? What if a well meaning professional tells them not to worry, to wait six or eight months before making any decisions, consulting with an audiologist, or exploring communication options. What should the first steps be for parents on discovering their child has a hearing loss?

Research has now shown that:

  • children who are early identified and receive intervention prior to six month of age have significantly better receptive language, expressive language, personal-social skills, receptive vocabulary, expressive vocabulary and speech production.
  • The benefits of early identification and intervention (prior to six months of age) can be demonstrated from 12 months of age through seven years of age.
  • Language development of children who are early-identified and receive early intervention services does not differ by degree of hearing loss, from mild through profound.
  • Both children who use speech as their mode of communication and those who use sign language benefit from early identification and intervention.
  • Parents of early-identified children report significantly less stress than parents of later-identified children.

(Yoshinaga-Itano, 1998, Audiology Today, "Hearing in Infants")

In light of this research, families should be very motivated to act quickly for the sake of their child . But what is the reality for families as they begin this journey with their child? Families do not always have this information on the importance of early intervention. They may be hearing conflicting opinions and suggestions as to what to do. The "system" may not be in place for the families to move as quickly as they would like to.

As families sift through this new discovery, the emotional impact, and the choices they must now make for their child, there is a balance between "hurrying up" and getting their child into early intervention, and "slowing down" to make informed choices, allowing for the emotional implications as parents, and looking at the unique situation of their particular child.

The following is a list of "first steps" a family may want to remember as they begin the process of guiding their child to a successful life.

  • Remember that the major goal of early identification and intervention is to give your child access to immediate communication. The "mode of communication" is not as important as "connecting" with your baby right away.
  • Step back and do not succumb to the pressure to make any decisions before you are ready. Give yourself the time you need to make decisions that feel right for your family.
  • Keep in mind there are very few decisions you will make that you cannot change.
  • Get as much information as you possibly can, from as many sources as possible. Learn how to differentiate between personal opinion and factual information.
  • Look for professionals who can provide you with their professional expertise, yet at the same time respect your rights as a family to make the decisions that you feel are appropriate.
  • Work with Audiologists who have expertise in fitting infants.
  • Look for Early Interventionists who have specific training in deafness and hearing loss
  • Talk to other parents, meet other children and adults who are deaf or hard of hearing. Their perspective is invaluable.

As parents, we do the best we can and try and make the best choices for our kids. When you come to discover that you have a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, it is not an awful thing. It is just a part of who your child is. It does not change the way you love or accept your child. It does not change the hopes and dreams you have for your child, and who they will become. You just open your heart to a different way of interacting in the world around you. Yes, the journey is different than we expected, but we have the privilege and responsibility of building a foundation for our children which will enable them to accept themselves for who they are, to communicate confidently in the world around them, and to get out there and change the world!

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