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Early Detection Of Deafness Key To Quality Of Life

Early Detection Of Hearing Loss Key To Better Quality Of Life

Deaf Awareness Week : 22 – 28 September 2003

NZ children are suffering in silence as their hearing problems go undetected. Of the more than 55,000 babies born in New Zealand every year, around 138 are born with moderate or greater hearing loss which is not detected until the children are almost three years old (35.1 months).

The internationally recommended age for identifying hearing loss is three months, with intervention and rehabilitation starting before six months of age. Research shows that children diagnosed before six months of age who then have access to appropriate early intervention are more likely to develop normal speech, language and communication skills than those who are diagnosed later. These foundation skills are crucial in ensuring children can participate educationally and socially.

The National Foundation for the Deaf is advocating for the introduction of a nationally coordinated programme for hearing screening in newborn babies and the provision of appropriate early intervention here in New Zealand.

It is this focus on the importance of early detection / early intervention = better results, that the National Foundation for the Deaf will be highlighting during Deaf Awareness Week, taking place from the 22 – 28 September 2003.

Marianne Schumacher, executive manager of the National Foundation for the Deaf, stresses that New Zealand’s late age of identification means that these Deaf and hearing impaired children and their families are paying a price.

“As hearing loss is an invisible handicap, with no universal screening at birth, these children are diagnosed late and so do not have access to the early intervention they need to develop age appropriate language, succeed in education and develop socially.”

“By the time children speak their first word they should have been listening to the language that surrounds them for about a year,” says Schumacher. “However the current age of identification means the average child with hearing loss has had limited exposure to sound, and is already behind its peers before this is picked up.”

One of the most serious problems that arise from not knowing a child is hearing impaired is delayed language development. It is essential that children have the ability to acquire language – either signed or spoken – at the earliest time.

The costs involved in the “catch up” process of socialising and educating children whose hearing loss is discovered later rather than earlier are immense - both economically and emotionally. If babies are identified with a hearing loss early in life, the costs of special education can be reduced and precious time is gained, enabling families and professionals to begin working together on behalf of the child before substantial language and communication deficit builds up. Early identification maximises learning during the critical period for language development, reducing the effects of the hearing loss on the child’s educational performance.

The international trend over the last 10 years is towards universal hearing screening programmes, with universal newborn hearing screening mandated by law in 35 of the US States and being implemented in England and parts of Australia and Canada. Programmes exist or are being implemented in Sweden, Scotland, Croatia and Taiwan. Regional or hospital based universal screening exists in Russia, Lithuania, Romania, Hungary and Poland, Italy, Belgium and Austria.

Studies are now beginning to show the effects of early intervention on outcomes. One study on spoken language of hearing impaired children starting school showed more than 80 percent of infants with hearing loss detected at birth go on to achieve normal language skills by the age of five. Infants not screened at birth have just a 32 percent chance of attaining normal language skills. Schumacher stresses that New Zealand’s babies must be reached as soon as possible to ensure they can reach their full potential. “For every year that goes by, another 55,000 babies are without hearing screening and the best possible start in life.” More…2/3

About the National Foundation for the Deaf Formed in 1978, the National Foundations for the Deaf (NFD) today represents the largest disability group in the country – approximately 450,000 deaf and hearing impaired people.

For a quarter of a century the NFD has worked tirelessly to identify and address issues affecting the deaf and hearing impaired communities, as well as educating and raising awareness of hearing impairment amongst the broader community.

Through research the Foundation hopes to alleviate the medical, social and educational consequences of hearing impairment and deafness. The NFD relies on the generosity of the public and the host of volunteers across New Zealand to achieve its goals.

By supporting the National Foundation for the Deaf during Deaf Awareness Week, you will also be helping the 450,000 Deaf or hearing impaired New Zealanders. Phone 0800 867 446 to find out how to make a donation, be put onto the mailing list, or to receive the NFD’s newsletter.

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