When you start sensing your baby moving around and kicking it is one of those emotional, private moments that helps forge that amazing bond between you and your unborn child. In fact, your baby’s movement is in many instances, a response to sounds, including the sound of your voice. Babies are known to respond to auditory stimulation by 25 to 29 weeks of pregnancy, which means that full term newborn babies already have more than two months of auditory experience.
However, not every child born has perfect hearing and in some cases babies are born with hearing deficiencies. Hearing loss is common among newborn infants with an incidence rate of three to six per 1000 live births per year globally, with the Middle East ranking toward the higher end of the spectrum. Approximately 25percent of these children have a severe to profound hearing loss while the remaining percentage is affected to a lesser degree.
Hearing loss mostly affects children from birth, but in many cases parents are unaware that their child has a hearing problem until the child is over three years old. This three year gap in seeking treatment could have a lasting impact on the development of the affected child, especially when it comes to their speech and language development. Being able to hear is one of our most vital senses and without it, our quality of life decreases which can lead to depression and other mental health issues. Above all, we all want our children to be healthy and to live as full a lives as possible.
What should parents do?
The two most important actions for parents to take are: to perform a newborn hearing screening, and to always look out for any signs of hearing issues and seek professional medical help if in doubt. This way, you as a parent can take immediate steps to ensure your baby has the best chances of a full and natural development into an independent and successful adult.
Some signs that you should be looking for with your newborn baby could be a birth defect on the outer ear or an ear infection. One or both ears may not be properly formed. A newborn baby with a hearing loss should startle when there is a loud noise nearby. On a wider scale, young children should be using single words by 15 months and two simple words sentence by age of two; if they do not or have not yet reached these milestones the cause maybe hearing loss.
There are some factors that might be an indication of hearing loss for your newborn baby such as family history of hearing loss, low birth weight, or infections that you can pass to your baby during pregnancy such as measles or herpes.
If you do spot some symptoms of hearing loss in your child then you are recommended to take them for examination where a qualified pediatric audiologist will use a variety of diagnostic tools to evaluate your child’s hearing sensitivity. If hearing deficiency is diagnosed, don’t worry, as there are many ways to treat it. Some such treatments include hearing aids, cochlear implants, aural rehabilitation, and subsequent speech language therapy. Every hearing deficiency case is different, but with modern technology and expertise, most symptoms are curable and the chances of your child developing in the most natural way possible are very high.
Dr. Bassel Chaykhouny is the Medical Director of the hearLIFE Clinic Dubai. He is a French Board Certified Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) Specialist from Henri Poincaré University and holds a Doctor of Medicine from the Aleppo University in Syria.
If you don’t notice any of the below signs, please go and see an audiologist to check your child’s hearing: Does your baby do these things?
Birth to 4 months:
• Awakens or stir at loud sounds?
• Startles at loud noises?
• Calms down to a familiar voice
• Responds to your voice (smiles or coos)?
Four to nine months:
• Turns eyes toward source of familiar sounds?
• Smiles when spoken to?
• Notices rattles and other sound-making toys?
• Cries differently in response to different needs?
• Makes babbling sounds?
• Seems to understand simple word/hand motions such as “bye-bye” with a wave?
Nine to 15 months:
• The baby babbles a lot of different sounds?
• Responds to his/her name?
• Responds to changes in your tone of voice?
• Says “ma-ma” or “da-da”?
• Understands simple requests?
• Will repeats some sounds that you make?
• Uses his or her voice to attract your attention?
• Points to familiar objects when they are named?
• The child listens to stories, songs and rhymes?
• Follows simple commands?
• Uses several different words?
• They can point to body parts when asked?
• Names common objects?
• They can puts two or more words together?
The next step
Kalimati Communication and Rehabilitation Center helps children with hearing loss. They offer speech and language therapy and sign language. This in turn gives parents hope for the future. We talk to two families who have benefited from specialist help. Villa 34, Street 58-C, Uptown Mirdif, www.kalimati.org (04 283 9196)
‘We are the Dodhy family from Karachi in Pakistan, and have been living in Dubai for the last 10 years. Our daughter, Mahnoor, was six months old when we noticed that she didn’t respond to loud sounds and never seemed to startle. At that time, we went to her doctor, who immediately referred us to an ear, nose and throat specialist. She had screening and tests for the next three months, and at nine months, started to wear hearing aids and received a cochlear implant.
We started going to the Kalimati Centre in 2013 where Mahnoor attends regular speech therapy. She has also been introduced to sign language through the centre. Mahnoor now goes to a mainstream school and has shown a considerable improvement.’
‘We are an Iraqi family living in Abu Dhabi and have two sons, Saif and Yusif. We have lived here since 2006, and discovered that our sons had hearing loss through observing them at home, as their speech was delayed. Their hearing was then tested. We found help through the specialists at the Kalimati Centre, who contributed significantly to the development of our children’s skills and is helping them improve their verbal communication. They’ve given us lots of tools and programmes that help our boys, whilst being fun at the same time. Most importantly, the staff at the Centre have supported us and given us hope as a family, which means we are all a little less frustrated.’