New study looks for answers on deaf children's learning

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by KING 5 HealthLink

KING5.com

Posted on August 30, 2011 at 5:20 AM

Updated Tuesday, Aug 30 at 9:30 AM

For Khristi Bowman story time with her twins is a blessing. Though both kids follow the story, twin brother Nate knows there's something different about his sister.

"If we're twins, we should not be twins, 'cause she gots ears and I don't, medical ears," explained Nate.

Molly, like twelve thousand other babies each year, was born with severe hearing loss. At just two she had cochlear implant surgery, complete with sound processors that she wears on the outside.

"When I take them off, I couldn't hear, and I put them back on and I can hear," Molly said.

Cochlear implants are permanent. They don't allow a child to hear in the normal sense. Instead they provide electronic impulses that the brain interprets as sound. And any hearing Molly may have had was destroyed at surgery.

"It was a big decision to make for her, because ultimately that's what we're doing. We were making it for her and her future. And we didn't even know if we were doing the right thing," said Khristi Bowman, Molly's mother.

Audiologist Tamala Bradham hears that all too often.

"From all the families that I've worked with through the years, they've always asked, what does this mean for my child?" Bradham explained.

Answers may be coming.A new landmark study, led by Bradham at Vanderbilt University, is following over 2000 deaf kids as they learn to communicate. The 50 study sites includeOPTION School programs in three countries.  

Experts already know catching hearing loss early is a crucial first step. Dr. Susan Norton is Chief of Audiology at Seattle Children's.

"Undetected hearing loss, present from an early age, can cause speech and language delays, social, emotional problems and academic delays," Dr. Norton said.

Even so, newborn hearing screens are not required by law in many states. That includes Washington, even though all the birthing hospitals perform them. It's personal for Dr. Bradham.

"I've grown up with a hearing loss as well. And knowing what my family went through and really not understanding hearing loss, I just really want to make sure that families have information," she said.

Knowing how children like Molly learn and adapt could be life-changing. She starts mainstream kindergarten in the fall.

According to Bradham, research shows kids with hearing loss in even one ear are ten times more likely to be held back one grade compared to their peers.

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