In the past decade hearing screening for newborns has become established across the UK. Babies who do not get a clear response in the screen are referred for Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) testing, which records the brain’s neural responses to sounds.
ABR results can provide information about hearing levels, but further assessment of the baby’s hearing skills gives important additional information to parents and professionals. At Chear we specialise in investigating and interpreting babies’ earliest responses to everyday sounds.
After six months babies begin to develop control of their vocal patterns. They have more head and body control, so we change the type of test used to measure their hearing. In Visual Reinforcement Audiometry (VRA), the baby turns towards a toy that lights up when he or she hears a sound. At Chear we use VRA from about five months to gain exact information on what pitches and types of sound the baby hears in each ear. We always use more than one method of assessment to confirm the results.
We find out if there is a hearing impairment and, if so, how severe it is. We can also provide information about whether the hearing difficulties are temporary or permanent.
We test with and without hearing aids, using speech sounds and environmental noises as well as pure tones. The additional information equips families with the knowledge they need to make the best choices for their child.
For infants who have already been fitted with hearing aids, we measure whether the output of the hearing aid is appropriate. We review the technology available to improve the child’s access to sound, including in some cases cochlear implants.
Poorly fitting earmoulds are the most commonly reported problem with infant hearing aids. We make sure they are secure and comfortable and fit snugly in the baby’s ear, to prevent whistling and to ensure that speech is as clear as possible.
We provide a full report of our results, which can be shared with NHS audiology services, doctors and other members of your hearing support team.
Many families find it helpful to chart their baby’s progress. Here is a checklist of hearing responses in the first year of life, from Texas Early Hearing Detection and Intervention. You may also want to take a look at our leaflet Your Child and Hearing Aids, by Karen L Anderson and Jane Madell.