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Transforming the lives of deaf children


For Immediate Use
Tuesday 15 April 2008

Newborn hearing screening transforming the lives of deaf children

The combination of newborn hearing screening and other developing technologies promises to qualitatively change life expectations for children who are born with impaired hearing, the National Screening Unit’s conference was told today.

Professor Greg Leigh from the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children and the University of Newcastle told delegates in Wellington that the most notable among these developments has been the increasing accessibility of cochlear implantation.  Since universal screening was introduced in New South Wales, the age at which children receive a cochlear implant has been consistently falling.

“Research shows that the speech and language abilities, reading, social and emotional development, and academic attainment of children who have their hearing impairment identified early and receive effective early intervention are all much better than for those whose hearing impairments are diagnosed at an older age.

“Other studies have indicated that there is a particularly “sensitive” period for the development of language skills which extends from birth to around two years of age.  If a child is to receive a cochlear implant, ensuring they receive it as early as is practicable during that sensitive period will greatly enhance their chances of age-appropriate development across a range of skills.”

While welcoming the vast changes that screening and subsequent technologies like cochlear implants have brought, Professor Leigh also warned that not every deaf child will benefit from the procedure.

“We need to be very sure that in the excitement of what cochlear implants can do, we don't take our foot off the pedal in providing alternative educational options in areas such as sign language interpreting and research because we feel deafness is “fixed” by screening and implants.  It is very important we don't compromise the life opportunities of deaf children by hailing newborn hearing screening and new technologies like cochlear implants as all we need to do.

“The challenge of meeting the needs of all deaf children - albeit some groups may be small - is to ensure that access to alternative models of language and social interaction continues while acknowledging the continuing potential diversity in living a life with deafness.”

Newborn Hearing Screening in New Zealand

Since 1986 the Ministry of Health has funded cochlear implants for over 400 people in New Zealand, about half of whom were children. 

The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education have been working jointly to implement a free newborn hearing screening and early intervention programme. Roll out of the programme began in July 2007 with three District Health Boards (Waikato, Hawke’s Bay and Tairawhiti).  The remaining 18 District Health Boards will begin their programmes over the next two years.  By 2010 newborn hearing screening will be provided for all District Health Boards.

More information about the Newborn Hearing Screening Programme is available on the National Screening Unit website:


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