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1 in 1000 babies are born with hearing problems, some of which can be corrected, all of which need to be managed, so it's important to test your baby's hearing early on to diagnose problems. Within hours of birth, you may be offered a hearing test called an automated otoacoustic emission (AOE) test. 'Oto' means ear and 'acoustic' is sound; in this test a probe is placed in your baby's ear and a clicking sound played out. The ear should respond with an echo created by the outer hair cells in the cochlea. The test only takes a moment and can signal if there are likely any problems. If there are, a further test can be arranged.
A more involved test is the automated auditory brainstem response (AABR) screening test. This involves sensors being placed on your baby's head and soft earphones placed over their ears. Sounds are played out and again the response is measured. Surprisingly, both the AOE and AABR test can be carried out while your baby is asleep!
Hearing problems can lead to difficulty acquiring language skills so it's very important to catch them as early as possible. It is also believed that if the brain isn't stimulated to process and create sound within the first 6 - 12 months that the ability to develop spoken language may be completely lost.
Sign language is taught to babies and young children in most preschools and schools. Even though there may not be any children present with hearing difficulties, sign language assists the development of language more broadly, particularly for children that haven't mastered the ability to speak: children can communicate by signing long before they are able to communicate through speech.
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