Sept. 10-16, 1999
U.Va. gets $4 million cancer grant
Curry School bringing classroom technology to Bermuda
Improvements made for checking children's hearing

From the desk of. . .Tom Gausvik

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newborn babyImprovements made for checking children's hearing

By Ida Lee Wootten

All babies treated in neonatal intensive care units in Virginia now have hearing screenings before being discharged, thanks to recommendations from the Virginia Educational Audiology Task Force that were approved this summer. As of next July, the new state regulations will make hearing tests of all newborns mandatory.

The task force, chaired by Robert Novak, associate professor of audiology in U.Va.'s communication disorders program, recommended helping families respond to a diagnosis of hearing impairment by giving them information, counseling and appropriate audiological services. U.Va. neonatologist Dr. Robert Boyle and Roger Ruth, director of audiology in the Health System's Department of Otolaryngology, also served on the task force. The task force also wrote guidelines for better screening of schoolchildren and monitoring those with hearing aids.

"The follow-up and early intervention services for children failing the screening are critical," Novak said.

The task force contributed to an information packet that helps parents know what questions to ask when seeking medical, audiological and educational services. The information packets, which provide contacts for services, are being distributed to hospitals doing infant hearing screenings and to primary care providers throughout Virginia this fall.

Within a month after failing initial hearing screenings, newborns should receive follow-up diagnostic testing to confirm hearing loss, Novak said. If hearing loss is confirmed, families will be helped in contacting the nearest Virginia Developmental Services Early Intervention Program.

In addition, the group set up a statewide database to document these screenings, the first such database in the country.

Reviewing the situation for children in school, the task force found that vast differences exist not only among Virginia's school districts, but within districts as well, in how hearing screenings are conducted and children with hearing impairments are monitored.

Federal mandates require that hearing aids used by children in classrooms work appropriately every day. "Research shows that on any given day 50 percent of the hearing aids on children in schools are not working effectively or at all," Novak said.

"Virginia public schools need to insure consistent management of the day-to-day hearing aid needs of hard-of-hearing children. Something as simple as the lack of consistent approaches to hearing screenings increases the possibility of missing hearing loss in school-age children that can interfere with their education," he said. Although hearing screenings of school-age (3-21 years) children are mandated by the state, the specifics of how and by whom the screenings are conducted are decided by local school districts. Consequently, there are significant differences in how screenings are handled, how follow-up is conducted and what educational interventions are applied, Novak said.

He noted that current Virginia school health guidelines regarding how hearing screenings are conducted do not follow the best practices established by the American Speech, Hearing and Language Association. The task force submitted to the Virginia Department of Education best-practice guidelines for hearing screenings that include visual inspection, middle ear examination and pure tone hearing screenings. They also call for training of all screening personnel by a licensed audiologist. The guidelines have been accepted and will be included in the revised Virginia school health guidelines. Implementation of the guidelines will still be left to the discretion of local school districts.


Photo courtesy of the U.Va. Communication Disorders Program

A sleeping newborn's hearing can be tested without disturbing the baby.


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