Hawaii has an average of 70 babies born with a confirmed permanent hearing loss each year. Of those 70 babies, only about half receive services like audiology, early intervention, speech and language, or sign language. 

One of the reasons for the low service rate is due, in large part, to the lack of understanding about the process and the importance of language learning. When a deaf child is born to hearing parents (over 90% of babies born deaf are born to hearing parents), that baby is probably the first experience a parent has with the deaf community. This can be overwhelming, discouraging, and even heartbreaking. There are emotions such as fear, guilt, shame, blame, confusion, and frustration. 

Families can benefit from counseling, not only to help them understand deafness but also to work through the grieving process. A child who is deaf is not meant to be looked at as “disabled”, but rather what they are able to do. They are able to learn to read, write, jump, run, play, and can grow up to get a job or go to college. It first starts with learning language and it’s most important that they get started before they are six months old. 

According to Early Hearing Detection and Intervention or EDHI, a child is required to have a Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (NBHS) within the first month of birth. If a child fails the NBHS, the family needs to follow up for diagnostic testing and possibly hearing aids before three months and receive services by the time the baby is six months. 

For Maui County, babies are screened with the NBHS at the hospital on Maui if they are born there. Lanai babies are born either on Maui or on Oahu and typically receive a screening at the hospital. Babies born on Molokai or home births can call Imua Family Services to receive a NBHS. It’s important to have your baby screened within the first month. If you notice language delays later, a hearing screening or further diagnostic testing may be needed.

To learn more about language learning and services after diagnosis, contact Hawaii Hears at [email protected] .

Christy Chadwick, M.S.D.E., M.A. MFT candidate 2021,  is an advocate for children who are deaf and specializes in Listening and Spoken Language. She is the president of the Hawaii Chapter of AG Bell, founder of Hawaii Hears and Deaf Education Awareness Foundation. Connect: Facebook/Instagram @HawaiiHears or email  [email protected].