Permanent childhood hearing impairment (PCHI) is the most common sensory disability, affecting 1 in 750 children. It is present at birth in more than 80 per cent of cases.
Research has shown that children with PCHI who are identified before nine months of age thanks to universal newborn hearing screening (UNHS) enjoy significant benefits to their language and reading at 6-10 years of age compared with those identified later.
To date, however, there has been an evidence gap as to whether these benefits persist into teen years and include functional outcomes, such as comprehension. Now a follow-up study published in Archives of Disease in Childhood has tested the language and reading of 114 teenagers aged 13–19 years, all of whom were tested aged 6-10. Seventy-six of the study group had PCHI and 38 had normal hearing. Half of them
were born in periods with UNHS.
Each participant was assessed by a trained researcher, unaware of their audiological history. The preplanned primary outcome of the study was their reading comprehension score. The researchers found that, ‘the teenagers whose PCHI had been confirmed early had maintained their level of performance relative to the hearing controls whereas the late confirmed teenagers had not: the gap between the early and late confirmed groups had doubled between the two assessments.’
The study concludes, ‘This strengthens the case for national governments to fund UNHS programmes that increase the rates of early confirmation of PCHI in the many developed and developing
countries where UNHS for PCHI is currently under discussion but not yet adopted as national policy.’