Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
I speak from experience when I say being a parent can drive you somewhat crazy. As the mom of three children who are now healthy and successful adults, I still remember sleepless nights comforting a toddler with an earache as well as trips to the emergency room for asthma attacks, broken bones and concussions.
Obviously, being a parent isn’t for the faint of heart. Successful parents know it takes a combination of resources to keep your children healthy – including a physician you can trust, a reliable source of health information, and good, old intuition.
Healthy Hearing is happy to provide the reliable hearing health information – all you need to do is add the rest.
Milestones for infants
Fortunately, most babies born in the United States today undergo a universal newborn hearing screening before they even leave the hospital. (Health professionals recommend babies born at home have a hearing test before they are two months old.) Those who fail hospital screenings and are suspected to have infant hearing loss are immediately referred to specialists for further diagnostic testing.
Approximately 12,000 babies born in the United States are identified with hearing loss each year – or 2-3 of every 1,000 – so chances are good your child will be born with normal hearing. Once you bring your baby home; however, it’s up to you to monitor his hearing health. In the first few months, pay attention to whether or not he is responding to sounds in his environment. Is he startled by loud noises? Does he recognize your voice? Does he move his eyes toward a noisy toy or music?
Once babies reach seven months of age, they should recognize and respond to a few basic words, such as “juice” or “book” and enjoy playing games like patty cake with you.
The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) website has great information regarding child development in this area. All children grow and develop at their own pace so please promise me you’ll use this information as a guideline. Don’t let an isolated incident put you into a state of panic.
Here’s a case in point. I can still vividly remember the day my husband decided it was time to hang the pictures I’d been nagging him to hang for months in the nursery. Matthew, our first born, was sleeping soundly in his crib but that was no deterrent. In he went, hammer and picture nails in hand, and pounded them into the wall right above our dear son’s head. (who does that, anyway?) Unbelievably, Matthew didn’t move a muscle–which of course sent me into a panic about his hearing health. There wasn’t anything wrong with his hearing, thank goodness. I was just raising a very sound sleeper.
Milestones for 1 to 2 years old
By the time your baby becomes a toddler, he should be communicating with you on a more complex basis. Find time to read to him every day and see if he can point to pictures in his favorite book. Can he name simple body parts, such as his nose, eyes and ears? Does he like listening to stories, rhymes and songs?
The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) is another great source of information to help gauge your child’s hearing and communication development. Again, use this list with caution. No matter how brilliant your child is, he won’t check off all the milestones on this list until he’s at the older end of the spectrum.
During the toddler years, you’re also likely to experience one of the most common hearing health problems infants and toddlers have ear infections. Because of their weak immune system and the way their Eustachian tubes are tilted, toddlers are more likely to develop an ear infection than adults. The NIDCD estimates three out of every four children will experience an ear infection by the time they are three years old. In fact, ear infections are the number one reason parents take their young children to the doctor – to the tune of 30 million visits annually at a cost of $2 billion in treatment costs.
We experienced this phenomenon with Matthew. He was a (very) active toddler but during one outing to the beach, he simply sat in the sand and cried. When I took the hat off his head, I could see the thick, yellow drainage from his ear. At the doctor’s office, our family physician told me he would most likely be prone to ear infections and may have to have tubes inserted to help his ears drain properly. That never materialized; however, the incident alerted us to keep a close watch on his hearing health until he got a bit older.
Milestones for 3 to 5 years old
This age was one of the most bittersweet periods of time for me. Where did my baby go? Seemingly overnight he began looking like a little person and began to speak in sentences. Hearing milestones for this age group are mainly based on their communication skills. Can your child answer simple questions about his day? Is he able to use adult grammar and tell a story? Can he communicate well with other children?
What to do if you suspect your child has a hearing problem
Consult with your physician. While I wouldn’t change the more innocent lifestyle my children grew up in, I marvel at the progress medical science has made in the lives of people with hearing loss. If your child isn’t hearing well, early intervention is the key to his social and academic success.
If you suspect your child needs to be evaluated by a medical professional, make the appointment. But don’t let the constant barrage of information you receive make you so fearful, you become paranoid and overly protective. Relax and trust your instincts. When in doubt, ask your physician. I promise your kids will be happier and healthier – and all grown up before you know it.