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Hearing Screenings Can Help School Children Learn

August 23, 1999 -- New state regulations that went into effect this summer require that all babies born in Virginia hospitals that have neonatal intensive care services must have hearing screenings before being discharged.

The regulation will result in approximately 300 new children being identified with significant hearing loss in the state each year, according to Robert Novak, associate professor of audiology in the University of Virginia's communication disorders program, who chairs the Virginia Educational Audiology Task Force. He noted that beginning next July 1, all Virginia hospitals will be required to screen newborns’ hearing prior to their discharge.

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

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. Through such programs infants will receive appropriate medical and audiological management, and families will gain planning, counseling and support.

Appropriate medical and audiological management may include amplification or cochlear implants, which increase the sounds the ear hears, and language stimulation therapy, which helps parents learn how to communicate effectively with their child after hearing loss is diagnosed.

For parents with infants who have severe-to-profound hearing loss, counseling may help them decide if their children can learn to speak or will need to be taught sign language.

"On-going medical and audiological management and counseling sessions with families are essential to minimizing the immediate impact of the diagnosis on parents. The combination may also reduce the long-term disability that can be associated with hearing loss in children," Novak said.

School Children at Risk

Looking ahead to fall, Novak said that children wearing hearing aids in school may not receive appropriate help and training. "Research shows that on any given day 50 percent of the hearing aids on children in schools are not working effectively or at all," he said.

Federal mandates require that hearing aids used by children in classrooms work appropriately every day. "In Virginia no one group consistently determines if the hearing aids are being used appropriately," Novak said.

Vast differences exist not only among Virginia's school districts, but within districts as well, he 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," Novak said.

Task Force Work

Members of the Virginia Educational Audiology Task Force have been working with the Virginia Department of Health in developing a hearing-impairment identification and monitoring system.

They also 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, will be given to hospitals doing infant hearing screenings and will also be distributed to primary care providers throughout Virginia this fall.

The task force has also developed a position statement on hearing screening recommendations for Virginia public schools. 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 educational audiology task force submitted to the Virginia Department of Education a position paper on how such screenings should be conducted. The best-practice guidelines 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.

"Some states, such as Utah, Colorado and Iowa, have excellent educational audiology services for children, but Virginia has a long way to go. Establishing consistent state protocols for screening and follow-up of hearing loss in newborns and consistent hearing screening and intervention protocols for school-age children are good beginning steps in Virginia," Novak said.

For more information, including a description of all the hearing screening recommendations for Virginia public schools that the task force sent to the Virginia Department of Education and General Assembly committees, contact Robert Novak at (804) 982-2323 or

Members of the task force who helped develop the newborn hearing-screening protocols and/or the parent-information packet include:

  • Pat Dewey, coordinator of the Virginia Department of Health’s Hearing Impairment and Identification Monitoring System. She can be reached at (804) 786-1964.
  • Roger Ruth, professor and director of the Communicative Disorders Division in U.Va.’s Otolaryngology Department, who is at (804) 924-2050 or
  • Fredia Helbert, educational audiologist for Wise County Public Schools, who can be reached at (540) 328-8017.

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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