Too many Canadian babies aren't being screened for hearing problems at birth, a failure that jeopardizes their future success, say doctors who graded provincial and territorial programs.
Tuesday’s report card from Speech-Language and Audiology Canada and the Canadian Academy of Audiologists finds "serious shortcomings" for newborn screening and comprehensive follow-up.
"The difference between early and late diagnosis of permanent hearing loss on a child's life is monumental," Dr. Hema Patel, a pediatrician at Montreal Children's Hospital and a mother of a son with hearing loss, told a news conference on Parliament Hill.
"As a country, we are failing our children."
To reach their full potential, all children deserve access to proper hearing screening and timely intervention, Patel said. The ability to communicate effectively with others is the foundation of a child’s social, emotional and educational development.
Extended periods of auditory deprivation can have significant impact on a child’s overall brain development, studies suggest.
Newborns are screened for hearing problems using quick and non-invasive tests that are done by a trained technician, ideally before the infant is discharged from the hospital.
The two hearing groups assigned a grade of "insufficient" to most provinces and territories that offer only localized programs or where the programs were considered to be substandard in quality.
British Columbia was the only jurisdiction to earn a grade of "excellent," for screening 97 per cent or more of babies across the province with a carefully designed program with clear standards, follow-up and tracking of births and outcomes.
Ontario, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick were considered "good."
Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba, Nunavut, Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories were graded "insufficient."
The report card is meant to encourage all provinces and territories and the federal government to strive for excellence in early hearing detection programs, Patel said.
Internationally, most universal newborn hearing screening programs recommend screening by one month of age, confirmation of the diagnosis by three months, and intervention by six months, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society’s 2011 position statement. The report card was endorsed by the Canadian Paediatric Society, VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children and the Elks and Royal Purple of Canada.