Every year the last Sunday of September is celebrated as the World Deaf Day. In the modern-day rush, people sometimes neglect their families, relatives and even their children. Some parents manage to see their children only when they are sleeping.
As an audiologist, I have examined many children suffering from hearing loss due to lack of timely and proper diagnosis. There are four major types of disability namely, auditory disability (hearing handicapped), mental disability (mentally handicapped ), physical disability (physically handicapped) and visual disability (visually handicapped). Except for auditory or hearing handicap, the three other disabilities are not hidden. We can find out if children have physical, mental or visual disability, but we cannot know whether a child has hearing disability without diagnosis. Therefore, we call hearing loss in children a silent and hidden disability.
Hearing loss is a hidden disability because children, especially infants and toddlers, cannot tell us that they are unable to hear. If undetected and untreated, hearing loss in children can lead to delayed speech and language development, social and emotional problems, and academic failure. By detecting hearing loss as early as possible, effective treatment can be provided.
Often, diagnosis of a child�s hearing loss is delayed as the parents are unaware that the child or an infant can undergo an accurate hearing test. Unfortunately, routine medical care seldom includes the simple hearing evaluation that can identify children with hearing loss.
Approximately, three children out of 1,000 are born with congenital, significant, permanent or bilateral hearing loss. Approximately, three additional children out of 1,000 will acquire deafness in early childhood. Approximately, 10 to 15 infants are born every day in our country with permanent hearing loss. Infants who spend time in the intensive care nursery are at a higher risk for hearing loss, with at least one in 100 showing significant hearing loss. Infants who have �Rh� incompatibility, neonatal jaundice and premature delivery are at high risk.
It is estimated that 80 per cent of very young children�s knowledge is attributed to �incidental reception� of sounds around them. Thus, learning is hindered even with the slightest hearing loss.
Ear infection is the most common infectious disease in childhood. Nearly all children will develop some period of hearing loss due to ear infections from birth up to 10 years of age.
Hearing loss in infants is a serious concern because it interferes with the development of language. The longer a child�s hearing loss goes undiagnosed, the worse the outcome is likely to be. Research studies have demonstrated that early intervention results in improved language development and increased academic success.
Parents are in the best position to identify their children�s hearing difficulties if they can give adequate time to their wards. We need to make parents aware of the danger signals and of the sources of help that are available to them.
Secondly, the physician needs to become more responsive to the parents� concerns about their children�s hearing. A recent study found that parents of children with hearing loss knew about these problems six to seven months before these were diagnosed, and that almost half of them were given poor advice such as �Don�t worry about it,� or �Wait till the child starts to go to school,� etc., when they apprised their doctors of their concerns.
Lastly, the State health programmes can initiate high-risk screening programmes, which can identify up to 85 per cent of infants who are born deaf or suffer from hearing loss.