Not long ago, a child might have been three or four years old before a hearing problem was diagnosed, but advancements in technology now let experts test the hearing of newborn infants. Rich Tyler, an audiology professor at the University of Iowa, says the science of hearing has gone a great distance in the past decade.

Tyler says: "Hearing screening is now done shortly after birth. This is an important advancement because there are many forms of severe and profound hearing loss that can be detected within the first few weeks with follow-up and verification." Deafness at birth is rare and occurs in only one-in-one-thousand babies, but one-in-ten children may have a mild hearing loss in at least one ear. He says discovering a hearing problem in a very young child is just the first step.

Tyler says, "Equally as important, is once the severe hearing loss is identified to be able to do something. Now, we can attempt to fit hearing aids within the first few weeks of identification within a month or two of birth and if unsuccessful, move directly to cochlear implants as soon as possible." In the past, a child had to be developed enough to be able to react — or not react — to certain sound stimuli to determine if there might be a hearing loss. Tyler says a baby’s ability to hear can now be measured by their brainwaves.

Tyler says: "For the early infants, it’s only in the last five or six years that the use of what’s called auditory brain stem response or electrical activity produced by the brain in response to sound that can be recorded and averaged and implemented now in newborn hearing screenings." He says a hearing loss left undetected during infancy and into the toddler years can impact a child’s learning and speaking abilities, adding, their ability to learn depends on the severity of the loss.