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 limited resources or little understanding of the process and the importance of language learning. Over 90% of babies born deaf are born to hearing parents. When parents learn that their baby has hearing loss, they might be completely new to knowing how to raise a deaf child and what is necessary to help their child learn a language. 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 capable of many of the same tasks as their hearing peers. 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 a 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 an 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 is an advocate for children who are deaf and is the founder of Hawaii Hears, offering services for families and children who are deaf or hard of hearing using cochlear implants and hearing aids.