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Infant Hearing Screening During COVID-19

The Ministry’s Infant Hearing Program has provided services to newborns across Ontario for a number of years and includes both: 1) a newborn hearing screen; as well as 2) a blood spot screen by Newborn Screening Ontario (NSO).

Like many services, newborn hearing screening by the Infant Hearing Program (IHP) was temporarily stopped due to the pandemic. Risk factor blood spot screening by Newborn Screening Ontario (NSO) continued throughout the pandemic. This routine blood spot sample was already collected by the hospital or midwife (heel prick test). It is checked for cytomegalovirus (cCMV) and some genetic risk factors for permanent hearing loss. You will be contacted by NSO directly only if a risk factor is detected. If nothing is detected on the blood spot, you will not hear from NSO (https://www.newbornscreening.on.ca/en/page/overview). The IHP hearing screening may still be available to your baby.

Prior to the closures, your baby may have possibly had one component of the IHP newborn hearing screening finished and the next step in the screening could not be completed. Or, your baby may have missed his or her hearing screening due to temporary pandemic closures.


Can I still get my baby’s hearing screened?

Hearing services in the Southwest Region are gradually resuming and will follow provincial and local health and safety guidelines. Urgent cases are being prioritized.


What if my baby did not get a hearing screening at birth?

Newborn hearing screening works best within the first few weeks of life. It can be difficult to complete a proper screening when the baby is older due to a number of factors. There are checklists that can help you determine if there is a problem and we have provided some suggestions below.

A) If your baby’s hearing was not screened and is younger than 8 weeks of age: You will be contacted by the Infant Hearing Program to arrange an appointment as soon as possible.

B) If your baby’s hearing was not screened and is older than 8 weeks of age: Unfortunately, the IHP newborn hearing screening component can no longer be completed due to the age of your baby, restrictions with the effectiveness and reliability of the screening equipment, procedures and protocols. The NSO blood spot screen will continue to be completed and if there are concerns, you will be contacted by the NSO directly. At times, a very mild hearing loss can be difficult to notice until later in preschool. So, if you are at all concerned about your baby’s hearing, we urge you to contact an Audiologist who is used to working with young children and book an assessment if required. A list can be found at the College of Audiologists and Speech Language Pathologists of Ontario’s website http://publicregister.caslpo.com/. For babies older than 8 weeks of age, you can also complete one of the communication checklists below.


What if my baby had a hearing screening at birth but the remainder of the screening procedure was not completed?

If your baby started the hearing screening process prior to the COVID-19 closures, you will be contacted for follow-up as soon as possible. In the meantime, you can complete one of the checklists below.


Check Your Baby’s Hearing and Communication Skills

The main reason we screen your baby’s hearing at birth is because hearing is necessary to learn how to talk. Babies who have normal hearing show certain behaviours related to listening and speaking. Listed below are various checklists you may use to help you understand your child’s hearing and communication development. If you notice that your child is not displaying all of the listed skills and you are concerned, please do not hesitate to contact a registered Audiologist who is used to seeing children (http://publicregister.caslpo.com/). Early Identification of a hearing loss means that support can be provided as soon as possible to reduce any communication delays.


Communication Checklists

https://www.sac-oac.ca/sites/default/files/resources/SAC-Milestones-TriFold_EN.pdf
https://pathways.org/all-ages/checklists/
https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/hearing-loss-children


What should I do if I am concerned about my baby’s hearing?

If you have completed a checklist above and are concerned about your baby’s hearing, contact an Audiologist who is used to working with children. Audiologists are registered health care professionals and some see children regularly. Audiologists that work with your age of child are able to assess their hearing accurately at any age. You can locate an Ontario-registered Audiologist through their regulatory college’s website: http://publicregister.caslpo.com/. You could also speak to your pediatrician or family doctor.


How do I know the Audiologist is used to seeing young children?

There are certain ways Audiologists test young children to gather accurate information in a child-friendly way. Some Audiologists test all ages, but others may only see older children. If your baby is 6 months of age or older, he/she will be able to turn his/her head in response to sounds in a sound treated room. This strategy is called visual reinforcement audiometry (VRA) and should be conducted using small foam eartips placed in each ear. This allows for the Audiologist to test each ear separately, which is important for knowing the hearing status in each ear. Presenting the sounds from the speaker does not test each ear separately, but with some children that is all that can be obtained. The Audiologist will also do other tests to determine if there is fluid behind the ear drum. So, when you contact the Audiologist you may wish to ask the following questions:

  • What age and how many children do you typically see?
  • What type of testing do you do?
  • When you test a child’s hearing, do you use foam eartips to test each ear separately?
  • Is there a fee for the hearing test? (Note: In some cases, there will be a fee. Hearing assessment by Audiologists is no longer covered by OHIP.)


What do I do if the Audiologist finds a hearing concern with my child?

If the Audiologist suspects a permanent hearing loss with your child, please obtain a copy of the report and contact the Infant Hearing Program – Southwest Region (serving the counties of Middlesex, Elgin, Oxford, Huron, Perth, Grey, Bruce, Lambton) at 519-663-0273 or 1-877-818-8255. Children with permanent hearing loss are able to re-enter the Infant Hearing Program. Children identified would then be eligible for IHP services until they are 6 years of age, regardless of when the hearing loss was identified. For further information on this provincial program, visit:
http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/earlychildhood/hearing/index.aspx


What do I do if the Audiologist said my child’s hearing is normal and I am concerned about my child’s speech and/or language development?

If the Audiologist did a thorough hearing test and it revealed that your child has normal hearing, and you have concerns about how your child’s speech and/or language skills are developing, please contact your specific Preschool Speech and Language program in the southwest region below.
http://www.children.gov.on.ca/htdocs/English/earlychildhood/speechlanguage/index.aspx

Preschool Speech and Language Programs in the Southwest Region:

  • SmallTALK: Huron Perth Preschool Speech and Language Program
    www.smalltalkinfo.ca | 519-272-8216 or 1-866-333-7716
  • SoundStart: Lambton Preschool Speech and Language Program
    www.soundstart.org | 519-542-2074 or 1-855-542-3471
  • tykeTALK: Thames Valley (Middlesex, Elgin, Oxford Counties) Preschool Speech and Language Program
    www.tyketalk.com | 519-663-0273 or 1-877-818-TALK
  • Grey Bruce Preschool Speech and Language (Owen Sound) (Integrated Preschool Speech and Language Services)
    www.tvcc.on.ca | 1-866-590-8822 ext. 58716 (Toll Free)