VILLA PARK – Audiologist Beth Rosales knows both professionally and personally the extreme importance hearing has on a child's ability to build speech and vocabulary at a young age.
"There is varying degrees of hearing loss, and even a mild hearing loss can have an effect," said Rosales, who works in the Family Audiology Department at Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region in Villa Park.
Rosales, of Villa Park, is a mother of three boys – two of which are affected by partial hearing loss. Jorge, 5, was diagnosed with mild hearing loss at 3 years old, but the symptoms are subtle and something Rosales and her husband, Jorge, simply monitor.
Ten-month-old Nico, however, has a more moderate form of hearing loss, and was fitted with hearing aids at 3 months old. Nico, Rosales said, failed a newborn hearing screening, which is given to all infants before they leave the hospital after birth. Following additional tests, it was determined that Nico had moderate sensorineural hearing loss.
As an audiologist, the diagnosis was familiar, but as a mother, it was a shock, Rosales said, adding that she was glad that the hearing loss was identified early.
"Nico is a perfect example of a child who, without the newborn screening, the hearing loss would probably not have been found until he was 2 or 3 years old," Rosales said. "It's an invisible problem that makes it hard for parents to accept because you see your child responding to sounds."
Even mild hearing loss can have a profound negative impact on speech development for children because they miss the nuances of speech.
"During the first year, they pick up so much sound and language learning opportunities," Rosales said. "I don't want [Nico] missing some of those softer consonant sounds that are so important to our language."
For seven years, Rosales has worked in the audiology department at Easter Seals, where she evaluates and helps to determine the cause of hearing loss in both children and adults.
For children, from newborns to 5 years old, there are a variety of tests to measure hearing loss. Once tests are generated, the patient is sent to an ear, nose and throat physician for a medical evaluation. If necessary, the patient is then fitted for hearing aids, Rosales said.
Rosales agreed that there is a stigma surrounding those who wear hearing aids as being deaf, but that is not always the case. For children like Nico, it allows them to hear to their full capability.
It's critical that parents be positive and accepting regarding hearing aids for their children, Rosales added.
"When they aren't, it makes it so much more challenging," Rosales said. "If they're positive from a very young age, it helps as the kids get older."
Determining hearing loss can be difficult in a young child, but the most effective way to determine if there is a problem is for parents to make sure their kids are hitting their receptive milestones.
"Be aware of their age-appropriate milestones for language and speech," Rosales said. "If there is any speech delay when they're young, it's always good to get their hearing checked because you would hate to be treating the speech and find out something is going on with their hearing."
Easter Seals' "Make the First Five Count" is a program to ensure that all children are school-ready by 5 years old. The first five years of life are so critical for a child's development, said Julie Jancius, marketing and public relations manager for Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region.
"Our vision here is to ensure that each child has everything that they need to live their best life – part of that is hearing," Jancius said. "As a parent, you realize how much hearing compounds on learning to read, talk and communicate."
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For more information on programs, services and resources offered by Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region, visit www.eastersealsdfvr.org.