Infant screening is making a huge difference, not only in the enrollment profile at Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children, but also in the lives of those born with impaired hearing. In 1999, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 714 requiring all birthing facilities in the state to administer a hearing test to infants younger than one month of age make a referral to a treatment provider as necessary. The Texas Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program (TEHDI) created by the legislation is dedicated to ensuring that newborns and young children with hearing loss are identified as early as possible.
Although it took a while, current results of the program are dramatic. For example, Sunshine Cottage early enrollments have almost tripled since 2004. Today, 74 children are enrolled in our Parent Infant Program and the trend continues to creep upward. There are many reasons for this in addition to the 1999 legislation. First, the availability of new technology such as the cochlear implant. Cochlear implants, coupled with intensive post implantation therapy, can help young children to acquire speech, language, and social skills. Most children who receive implants are between two and six years old. Early implantation provides exposure to sounds that can be helpful during the critical period when children learn speech and language skills. In 2000, the FDA lowered the age of eligibility to 12 months for infants to receive a cochlear implant.
Secondly, information through outreach efforts have been extended to parents and providers. The city has been proactive in encouraging compliance with the legislature and Sunshine Cottage has used the internet and other social media to make people aware of the help that is available. Studies show that early identification and association with a program that encourages parents to use all means available to help their child is the best methodology for success.
Additionally, institutions such as Sunshine Cottage have developed programs specifically tailored to reach out to and assist infants and younger children. The Parent Infant Program at Sunshine Cottage provides parent-focused, child-driven and center-based intervention in a warm, comfortable, home-like setting. Sunshine Cottage recognizes and empowers parents as the individuals primarily responsible for developing their baby’s oral communication skills by integrating listening into the infant’s personality through natural daily routines. Our PIP parents learn about hearing loss, effective use of amplification and strategies for developing spoken language.
Finally, more doctors and pediatricians are making referrals because they recognize that early identification and intervention is the process most likely to turn out an adjusted and contributing adult.
Sunshine Cottage has long recognized and been a leader in early identification and treatment, and has made extra efforts to reach out and connect with parents, hospitals, doctors and treatment professionals. The efforts have resulted in more and increasingly younger referrals, changing the school’s demographics and core population.
Sunshine Cottage, long a leader in educational advancements for young children, welcomes the opportunity to make its services available to the growing number of infants identified through the screening process. We look forward to the day when everyone is aware that hearing impairment is not a restriction in infant growth and education.