My son can’t hear me

Why Quebec needs a universal hearing screening program

By Dr. Hema Patel, MCH pediatrician

The birth of a child is one of the greatest miracles in life.  And I, like most new mothers, was absolutely delighted with my newborn baby.  In his first few months of life, I did all that I knew was good and right for our child – good food, warm shelter, vaccines and car seats.

I sang songs into his little ears, read stories and told him what a joy he was in our lives.  To be honest, we wondered about his hearing from time to time.  We asked his doctor about it, but when the little bell rang behind his head, he turned to the sound immediately.  I wondered if I was simply an over anxious first time mother.  So imagine my shock, one unforgettable spring day, when I was told that my little baby was deaf.  Not a little deaf, but profoundly so.  

He had not heard a single sound in our home, in our lives.  Not the sound of my voice, not the sound of piano, not the sound of his own voice.  I remember hearing him laugh in his crib and wondering whether his deafness would swallow up his voice, whether I would hear that laugh again.  And I realized too that I knew so very little about deafness, and was stunned to learn that it is the most common congenital abnormality in newborns.

In short order, I learned that:
  • Most hearing impaired babies are born to hearing parents.
  • That doctors can’t tell whether a baby can hear or not by ringing a bell; oftentimes the baby will turn because they sense a movement or see a shadow.
  • The best way to identify hearing loss in newborns is through universal newborn hearing screening (UNHS) where an easy 10 minute sound test (otoacoustic emission test - OAE) can accurately determine if a baby can hear or not, before they leave the nursery.
  • When hearing loss is detected at birth, early intervention with therapy and technological aids, like hearing aids and cochlear implants, allow even profoundly deaf children to hear and speak normally.
We were fortunate to have the strong support of our families and access to up-to-date medical information.  At the Montreal Oral School for the Deaf, one of Canada’s leading programs for hearing impaired children, our son has received excellent care from their expert team.  He hears and speaks, in English and French.

Because Quebec has no universal hearing screening program, most children with hearing loss are identified late, when they present with significant speech and language delays.  Most parents don’t find out that their child is hearing impaired until after the age of two years.

Would we let a child be blind for two years if we knew that there was a way to let him see shortly after birth?  Would we let a child be paralyzed for two years or more if we knew of a way to restore strength to the muscles?  But here in Quebec, we are allowing our hearing impaired children to stay in silence even though we have the means to test hearing right after birth and have the tools to help infants hear.

Universal newborn hearing screening (UNHS), costing approximately $35 per newborn, is both effective and cost-effective.  It is available in most provinces in Canada, including Ontario, now celebrating its 6th year of UNHS.  Quebec’s own team of experts have strongly recommended immediate implementation of UNHS.

Our children deserve all the advantages that other Canadian infants already have.  Join with our Coalition for UNHS in asking Minister Couillard to implement UNHS province-wide, without delay.

What can you do?
  • Ask your doctor about the OAE test for your baby.
  • Talk to family and friends about the importance of hearing screening in newborns. 
  • Call your MLA and ask that they support UNHS.
  • Join our Coalition for UNHS via our website.
Together we can make a difference!