About 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard of hearing. Over 90% of these children are born to parents who can hear. Early identification of children who are born deaf or hard of hearing is critical to ensure that their families have the resources they need to help their children acquire language, spoken and/or visual, and achieve age-appropriate communicative, cognitive, academic, social, and emotional development. The NAD supported passage of the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act (EHDI) in 2000 and subsequent federal funding to establish state newborn hearing screening programs in hospitals. At the time, the average age of identification of deaf children was about 2½ years old; children who were hard of hearing were often identified much later. The goals of the EHDI program include hearing screening of all newborns by age one month, confirmation of hearing status by three months, and enrollment in an early intervention program for deaf and hard of hearing babies and their families by six months.
Today, about 95% of newborns have a hearing screening before they leave the hospital. However, not all of these newborns who are suspected of being deaf or hard of hearing receive the necessary follow-up evaluations they need to confirm their hearing status. The NAD is actively seeking reauthorization of the EHDI bill with a focus on ensuring that every family gets the care, information, and services they need to give their deaf or hard of hearing children the opportunities they need to acquire spoken and visual language.
The acquisition of language from birth is a human right. Deaf and hard of hearing infants should be given the opportunity to acquire American Sign Language (ASL), a fully accessible visual language, as early as possible, in addition to the opportunity to access and acquire the spoken language(s) used by their families through the use of assistive technologies and other strategies. The NAD is strongly committed to ensuring that parents of newly identified deaf or hard of hearing infants receive accurate information about the benefits of acquiring and developing proficiency in both ASL and English.
Related Issue: Education