Giving Voice to Deaf Children

FRESNO, Calif.

For Khristi Bowman, story time with twins Mollie and Nate is a blessing. The pair were born at the same time, yet Nate knows there's something different about his sister.

"If we're twins, we should not be twins because she has ears, but I don't... medical ears," Nate told Ivanhoe.

Molly, like 12,000 other babies each year, was born with severe hearing loss. At just 2, she got cochlear implant surgery.

"When I take them off, I couldn't hear, and I can put them back on, and I can hear," Molly told Ivanhoe.

"It was a big decision to make for her, because ultimately that's what we were doing. We were making it for her and her future, and we didn't even know if we were doing the right thing," Khristi Bowman told Ivanhoe.

Audiologist Tamala Bradham hears that all too often.

"From all the families that I've worked with through the years, they've always asked, 'What does this mean for my child?'" Bradham, from Vanderbilt University, told Ivanhoe.

Answers may be coming. A new landmark study is following more than 2,000 deaf kids as they learn to communicate. The focus: diagnosing hearing loss early.

A newborn hearing tests costs a hospital less than 50 bucks a baby. But just 28 states mandate screening of all babies. Fail to catch hearing loss early, and your kid may suffer delays in vocabulary comprehension.

While 30-month-olds who hear learn up to 120 words a month, a 30-month-old deaf child learns one per month.

For Bradham, it's personal.

"I've grown up with a hearing loss as well, and knowing what my family went through and really not understanding hearing loss, I just really want to make sure that families have information," Bradham said.

Knowing how youngsters like Molly learn and adapt could be life-changing. She starts mainstream kindergarten this fall.

Research shows kids with hearing loss in even one ear are 10-times more likely to be held back one grade compared to their normal-hearing peers. If screened at birth, infants can be fit with amplification devices at less than 1 month old. Vanderbilt University's hearing study is taking place in conjunction with 50 other schools in three countries.

Craig Boerner
National News Director
Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.