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Speech Language Pathology + Audiology

Newborn Hearing Screening Program

Promoting healthy speech & language development

The first three years of life is a crucial period for learning speech and language. Having an undetected hearing problem, however, can make it difficult for a child to acquire these skills.

As mandated by state law, all babies born at Tufts Medical Center in Boston undergo a newborn hearing screening before leaving the hospital. If the infant doesn't pass the screening, further detailed hearing testing is necessary. This detailed testing takes place at a testing center that has been approved by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Program director Lauren Seafert, AuD, CCC-A, along with other audiologists at Tufts MC, has had specialized training in newborn hearing screening and can discuss the test results of babies who require further testing.

What you can expect

The main form of newborn hearing screening is an automated auditory brainstem response (AABR). This test is administered in a quiet environment while your infant is sleeping. After placing three sensors and two earphones on the infant, we play soft sounds and see how the brain responds. The whole process takes about 10 minutes.

The AABR results in either a "pass" or a "refer." If your baby passes, that means he or she is able to hear you sing and talk. Keep in mind, however, that the test may not pick up mild hearing loss and that hearing loss still can emerge later in childhood. So it's important to observe whether your child is meeting key speech and hearing milestones — and to contact your pediatrician with any concerns.

What happens if my baby doesn't pass the AABR?

Babies who don't pass the screening (for either one or both ears) or have high-risk factors for hearing loss will require further testing. In these cases, a diagnostic auditory brainstem response (ABR) evaluation should take place no later than one month after discharge. This evaluation will be scheduled at an approved testing center by the Department of Public Health.

Follow-up ABR testing is very important. If your infant is diagnosed with hearing loss, early diagnosis and intervention services help him or her to develop language, speech and social skills better. This test cannot be done at your baby's doctor's office.

Babies who require a stay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and have risk factors for hearing loss may also undergo comprehensive audiologic monitoring on an extended basis to make sure their hearing is normal.

Understandably, learning that your baby has hearing loss can be a cause for concern. The good news is that beginning to address the problem before six months of age can prevent or minimize speech and language delays.

Call an Audiologist