How do you know when your child is deaf or hearing impaired?

How do you know when your child is deaf or hearing impaired?

“How did you find out your daughter couldn’t hear?” That usually the first question people ask when they find out that my daughter, Alexandra, is deaf.

The answer is, we didn’t know. We didn’t know until she was 11 months old. You can see their eyes widen in alarm and disbelief. You think to yourself – “Are they wondering if I was a very inattentive parent not to know my child couldn’t hear?” In fact it was the opposite, we interacted with Alexandra all the time and she responded to our eyes, movements, touch, smell and presence with great interest. Because of this we didn’t know that she wasn’t responding to our voices.

Alexandra was born at University of Tennessee Hospital in Knoxville in 1995. It wasn’t until 2008 with the introduction of “Claire’s Law,” that the State of Tennessee made it a requirement for every newborn to be screened for hearing loss. If in fact Alexandra had been born deaf, there was no way for us to know.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, hearing loss is one of the most frequently occurring birth defects; approximately 3 infants per 1,000 are born with moderate, profound or severe hearing loss.  Hearing loss is even more common in infants admitted to intensive care units at birth.  If hearing loss is not detected and treated early, it can impede speech, language and cognitive development.  Over time, such a delay can lead to significant educational costs and learning difficulties.  The National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management (NCHAM) reports that detecting and treating hearing loss at birth for one child saves $400,000 in special education costs by the time that child graduates from high school.


What do you mean when you say, “If Alexandra was born deaf”?

Alexandra had her first ear infection when she was three weeks old, complete with a fever of 104F. This surprised us we were led to believe that most breast-fed babies have a healthier immune system and are usually resistant to ear infection. At her pediatrician, Alexandra was given a strong dose of amoxicillin, received her normal one-month vaccination and was sent home.

This became our routine. Ear infection. Doctor. Antibiotics. Alexandra had 33 ear infections in her first 36 months of her life. We’d give her the full dose of antibiotics, which would tamp down the infection but never completely clear it. Every 3 weeks we were back in the pediatrician’s office with another ear infection complete with fever, oozing ears and raging pain. Alexandra developed a resistance to the antibiotics quite rapidly and by the time she was 3 years old she’d become immune to the most common antibiotics prescribed to children.

Do you think that her early ear infections played a significant role in her hearing loss?

One of Alexandra’s doctors believed that it was highly possible that she was born with normal hearing and antibiotics or the combination of antibiotics, the high fever and the vaccinations – all in play at the same time -- caused a cataclysmic reaction in her system and resulted in her hearing loss. He told us that her reaction could have affected many of the organs in her body and in the most extreme case it might have been fatal. This was one of the few times in our lives where a loss of hearing was the upside.


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