Babies aren’t known to say, “Please speak up, I can’t hear you” or “Can you please turn the music down?” Their inability to communicate made testing their hearing challenging in the past but thankfully, modern medicine has found ways to precisely calculate the hearing of infants and young children.
In Illinois, all infants have their hearing screened after being born and before they leave the hospital. “Most babies sleep through the initial screening test,” says Dr. Tom Wardzala, Aud.D., an audiologist at Sertoma Speech and Hearing Centers.
Many parents, when told their baby needs follow-up testing, might immediately think their child has a hearing problem. That’s not usually the case, says Jacqueline Riel, Aud.D., an audiologist at Sertoma Speech and Hearing Centers. “The majority of the kids that we test for follow-up end up having normal hearing,”
Still, it is important to do the follow-up testing without delay, she says. “If there are any hearing problems, we want to get them everything we can as soon as possible to help them be as successful as possible with speech and language development,” she says.
The tests to measure hearing in babies and young children are painless experiences.
For babies, the auditory brainstem response test (ABR) records how the brain reacts to a series of clicks. Electrodes placed on a baby’s head allow audiologists to measure brainstem waves and again, babies often sleep through the test. In fact, sleep is preferable.
“The ABR is the best way to gauge the health of the inner ear and is the test most often used for diagnosing hearing loss,” Dr. Wardzala explains.
For toddlers and young children, “We play with bubbles and have fun. This is not like going to the dentist or an eye doctor where the procedures are more involved,” Dr. Wardzala says.
The common test for children up to age 3 is visual reinforcement audiology, which involves projecting speech sounds or noises over speakers, meaning children do not have anything on their ears that might irritate them
The tests are fun for the children but they also produce very accurate readings. The tests generate precise measurements showing the child’s eardrum and hearing function, which is exactly what audiologists need to best help their patients.
Click here for Sertoma’s ebook series, “What Every Mom Needs to Know About…Speech and Hearing Development of Her Child.”