Newborn Hearing Screening

More than 2,000 children are born with a hearing loss in Canada every year, making it one of our country’s most common birth defects for which screening is available. Approximately six in every thousand babies born in Canada have some degree of hearing loss, including profound deafness.

Hearing health begins with screening for hearing loss at birth. Without screening, the average age of identification of hearing loss has historically been between 2 ½ to 3 years of age, making it difficult for many children to catch up with communication and social skills. Early diagnosis and intervention can profoundly and positively impact a child’s success, both in the classroom and in life.

Why it’s so important:

You may remember the story we shared with you several months ago about a beautiful baby boy, Beckett, who lived for nearly 2 years with undiagnosed hearing loss.

Last month, Beckett received his first pair of cochlear implants. And although it has been an adjustment, it has been wonderful. Beckett and his family have shared so many new firsts. Watch as Beckett begins to learn words and the wonder in his face as he listens:

When Beckett was finally screened for hearing loss, his life was transformed forever. Sadly, it should have happened much earlier, but Canada does not have a nationally mandated infant screening program.

Together we are changing that.

The Hearing Foundation of Canada (THFC) has committed to an active public education program on the need for universal newborn hearing screening programs in all Canadian provinces. THFC worked with two universities in 2002 to develop and launch a major Newborn Hearing Screening education program across the country. Brochures, videos, CDs, and posters were distributed to health care professionals, new parents, public servants, and to encourage adoption of province-wide Early Hearing Detection and Intervention programs. The response to these materials was overwhelmingly positive. By the end of 2003, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and the Yukon had implemented infant hearing screening programs with the help of the bilingual educational materials developed by THFC.

Newborn hearing screening is a gentle, non-invasive test that can identify a potential hearing problem at birth or shortly after. Babies identified with a hearing loss will then experience early intervention, so that the crucial communication development in their early years is not compromised. THFC supports the screening for all children as early as possible.

THFC’s 9-minute captioned video, One Simple Test Could Change a Child’s Future explains the importance of early detection and intervention. It has been distributed across Canada to educate parents-to-be, the public and health care professionals and in 2003, Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care distributed a copy to all physicians and specialists in the province.

Research shows that when babies are diagnosed and treated for hearing loss by six months of age, their language levels are higher with no evidence of developmental delays as seen in children who are diagnosed after six months.

THFC encourages new parents to check their baby’s hearing throughout these important first years. Encourage language development: sing, talk and read to your baby. If you have any concerns about your baby’s hearing, consult your doctor.

Signs of Hearing Loss in Children:

  • Your child’s “baby talk” is not progressing or their speech/language development is delayed or difficult
  • They complain that their ear(s) hurt, or they have frequent ear infections
  • They have difficulty locating sounds
  • They often speak too softly or too loudly
  • They turn up the TV volume to an excessively high level
  • They have behavioural or academic problems; often classified as being inattentive or disruptive, especially during listening activities
  • They often ask, “What?”
  • Their speech sounds different or they don’t speak clearly
  • Their language is characterized by a reduced vocabulary where words are often missing endings

Provincial Links to Programs:

Early hearing screening programs and services vary between provinces.  Links to some provincial programs are listed below: