Jareen Meinzen-Derr, PhD

Universal screening of newborns for hearing loss is not enough to improve language skills of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, according to a study published online in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Research scientists at Cincinnati Children’s report that at least 40 percent of children with a hearing loss have the capacity for higher language levels—beyond what test scores indicate.

“We have focused efforts for children who are deaf or hard of hearing on obtaining a language level that is often considered in the normal or average range on standardized assessments,” says Jareen Meinzen-Derr, PhD, an epidemiologist and lead author. “But their language skills are not good enough if we account for their cognitive abilities.”

The study enrolled 152 children. Language and neurocognitive assessments revealed significant disparities between language scores and nonverbal cognitive scores. With a slightly modified evaluation approach, therapists could begin to recognize these mismatches at younger ages and intervene, Meinzen-Derr says.