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Pediatr Clin North Am. 1999 Feb;46(1):1-14.

The case for early identification of hearing loss in children. Auditory system development, experimental auditory deprivation, and development of speech perception and hearing.

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Children's Auditory Research and Evaluation Center, University of California Davis Medical Center, USA.


Human infants spend the first year of life learning about their environment through experience. Although it is not visible to observers, infants with hearing are learning to process speech and understand language and are quite linguistically sophisticated by 1 year of age. At this same time, the neurons in the auditory brain stem are maturing, and billions of major neural connections are being formed. During this time, the auditory brain stem and thalamus are just beginning to connect to the auditory cortex. When sensory input to the auditory nervous system is interrupted, especially during early development, the morphology and functional properties of neurons in the central auditory system can break down. In some instances, these deleterious effects of lack of sound input can be ameliorated by reintroduction of stimulation, but critical periods may exist for intervention. Hearing loss in newborn infants can go undetected until as late as 2 years of age without specialized testing. When hearing loss is detected in the newborn period, infants can benefit from amplification (hearing aids) and intervention to facilitate speech and language development. All evidence regarding neural development supports such early intervention for maximum development of communication ability and hearing in infants.

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