The Importance of Early Intervention

“Early intervention” is a term that medical and other professionals use to describe the identification and treatment of developmental or physical challenges in children from birth until three years of age.

When it comes to an infant or child who is deaf or hard of hearing, early intervention is extremely important because the human brain is programmed to learn language during the first six years of life – with the first three-and-a-half years being the most critical. Without intervention, it becomes increasingly difficult to acquire language as a child grows older.

The earlier a child's speech and language problems are identified and treated, the less likely it is that problems will persist or worsen. Early speech and language intervention can help children be more successful with reading, writing, schoolwork and interpersonal relationships. In fact, infants and young children whose hearing loss is detected early and who receive appropriate and timely intervention have an excellent chance to develop these important life skills alongside their hearing peers.

As a result of Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) legislation enacted in 2000, most hospitals today screen for hearing loss before a newborn is discharged from the hospital. The initial exam is referred to as a “screening” because the testing is not as involved as a comprehensive hearing examination and so, the results are not definitive. Follow-up testing that involves a comprehensive hearing evaluation is required to confirm the diagnosis of a hearing loss.

If an initial screening comes back with a fail result in one or both ears, then a second screening and, perhaps, follow-up testing will be recommended to confirm whether a hearing loss is present and, if so, the type and nature of the loss. This should be done by an audiologist (someone with an advanced degree and appropriate licensure/certification in evaluating hearing) with pediatric experience and the ability to conduct a thorough assessment. It is important that parents do not wait to have the recommended follow-up testing done. Every moment counts when it comes to helping a child who, ultimately, is found to be deaf or hard of hearing. Providing improved access to sound is of utmost importance in helping a child hear and develop a foundation for listening. Putting your child into intervention services should assist you in providing your child with improved access to sound (typically, through appropriately-fitted hearing technology) and access to services and supports that result in development of speech, language and literacy.

Once a hearing loss is confirmed, your pediatrician should refer your child to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, a physician also known as an otolaryngologist, who will evaluate your child to determine if there is an underlying cause to your child’s hearing loss. In addition to making recommendations related to treatment, an ENT physician who specializes in pediatrics may also provide information on various communication approaches for your child.

What is involved in screening?

Hearing screening methods for infants and children are non-invasive and painless.

  • ABR (Automated Brain Stem Response): Sounds are presented through earphones while the baby rests quietly or sleeps. Brainstem responses to sound are measured through small electrodes, which are taped on the baby’s head. These responses are processed by a computer.
  • OAE (Otoacoustic Emissions): A small probe tip is inserted into the baby’s ear canal. It measures the function of the inner ear, or cochlea. This screening can also be performed on a sleeping infant.
  • Behavioral Testing: These types of tests are used when a child is old enough to turn his or her head in response to sound or play a game. These tests measure the quietest sounds the child can hear and the child’s ability to understand words.
  • Acoustic Impedance Tests: These tests can be administered to children of all ages and can help identify middle ear problems (e.g., the presence of fluid and the status of eardrum) through quick, non-invasive, computerized technique.

Reach Us

Alexander Graham Bell Association
for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

3417 Volta Place NW
Washington, D.C. 20007

Tel: 202-337-5220
TTY: 202-337-5221


Our Mission

Working globally to ensure that people who are deaf and hard of hearing can hear and talk. 

We want all families to be informed and supported, professionals to be appropriately qualified to teach and help children with hearing loss, public policy leaders to effectively address the needs of people with hearing loss, and communities to be empowered to help their neighbors with hearing loss succeed.