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Newborn hearing screeners celebrate 10 year anniversary

A team of healthcare workers who provide a vital screening service for tamariki is celebrating its 10 year anniversary.

The Bay of Plenty District Health Board (BOPDHB) Newborn Hearing Screening service of 5 screeners and one administration person has been operating since 2009, and screens approximately 3,000 newborn babies each year. The service is part of the national Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Program.

“They are hardworking, caring, professional people and do a wonderful job,” said Newborn Hearing Screening/Speech Language Therapy/Dietetics Team Lead Robin Matthews. “Hearing screening for newborns is not a particularly well-known service but its crucial work for a child’s development. Early identification and early intervention is critical for the prevention of permanent hearing loss in any child which may have an issue.

“This anniversary is a celebration of the thousands of children the team has helped over the past decade.”

BOPDHB Audiology and Newborn Hearing Screening Professional Lead Erin Keach backed up Robin’s comments.

“Before we had newborn hearing screening the average age of identifying a hearing loss was 4 years old,” said Erin.

“We know that for brain and language development the most critical time is the first two years. That means hearing loss was being picked up too late in a lot of instances.

“Screening at an early age gives us time and the ability to intervene to support these children with their hearing and language development, with technology such as hearing aids or cochlear implants.”

Erin said locally, around 3-4 babies per 1000 screened are ultimately identified as having a permanent hearing impairment (in one or both ears).

The hearing screen is free of charge, completely non-invasive, simple and safe. A piece of monitoring equipment with sensors on is placed over the ear of the newborn. This plays a soft clicking noise and the sensors measure how the auditory nerve responds to those.

The test, which lasts just a few minutes, is ideally undertaken within the first month after birth. It is offered to all mums of newborns and is performed when the baby is asleep and in a quiet environment – so that no outside noises or stimuli affect the results.

Any baby that does not register a clear response on the first test is tested again. If no clear response is given on the second test either, the baby is referred to the audiology team. The audiology team then carries out a full diagnostic hearing assessment and gives ongoing treatment as necessary.

Newborn Hearing Screener Glenys Berry said it was “a very satisfying feeling knowing the importance of the screening test and what you’re potentially doing for the child”.

Newborn Hearing Screener Jan Krause said the ramifications of hearing issues not being picked up could be profound.

“I read recently about an 8 year-old elsewhere in New Zealand who had not had his hearing screening test. He had had lots of issues at school, behavioural issues because of his hearing problems. Teachers felt that he was misbehaving and was a naughty child but it all stemmed from his hearing problems not being properly picked up initially. It can have a massive impact on a child’s life and development. The majority of people don’t know how important this work is.”

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