Video: Newborns missing out on hearing treatment

SEATTLE - All newborns in Washington state get their hearing tested before parents take them home from the hospital.

So why are many infants with hearing problems missing out on early treatment?

Danielle Lichtenhan's parents work with her each day on speech. The 4-year-old has been profoundly deaf since birth.

An electronic device called a cochlear implant gives her a sense of hearing. She's had it since age 2.

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"Sometimes I think if we'd have gotten it done just a little bit earlier she might be speaking a little better," said Tricia Lichtenhan, Danielle's mother.

Newborns at all birthing hospitals in Washington get screened for hearing loss. Still many babies who fail the test miss out on early intervention.

That's according to Dr. Susan Norton, chief of audiology at Seattle Children's. She says screening results get reported to the Washington state Department of Health. But the staff there is not allowed to contact parents, so more than a quarter of babies with hearing loss aren't followed.

"Since the department of health can only contact the child's primary care provider, if they have no primary care provider they have no way of following up," Norton said.

When Danielle failed her newborn hearing test her mother says the screener, and later her pediatrician, told her the cause could be debris that can lodge in a baby's ears during birth.

"Over time it might fall out. And he did a kind of check over with her, and so we just kind of waited," Tricia said.

Danielle is catching up. But Dr. Norton says studies clearly show why it's important to keep children from falling through the cracks in care.

"Children with hearing loss who receive intervention by six months of age have significantly better speech and language skills, and academic skills than children who are identified and begin intervention later," she said.

Little Jordan's mother says early detection helped him. When he was two weeks old a test confirmed moderate hearing loss. He has worn hearing aids since infancy, and gets speech therapy.

"He's right on track with his speech and development," said Janice DeMooy. "And he's a happy boy."

The condition is rare, but the majority of children with congenital hearing loss are born to hearing parents.

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