The State of Alaska seeks support for the purpose of ensuring that infants born in Alaska are not lost to follow-up following a failed or missed hearing screening. Voluntary newborn hearing screening has been in place in all Alaskan birthing hospitals since December 2003. Legislation mandating newborn hearing screening was passed in May 2006 and regulations outlining the statute are effective January 2008. In accordance with the National Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) 1-3-6 Goals, the mandate will require all birthing hospitals, audiologists, and early intervention programs to report screening and assessment results to the State’s EHDI database. Continuation of federal funding in support of Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Intervention (UNHSI) in Alaska will ensure that early identification, connection with diagnostic and treatment services, and early intervention are a well functioning system of care for all Alaskan children with hearing loss. (Note: UNSHI is hereafter referred to as the State EHDI Program, as this is the current vernacular for the Alaska State Program.)
Permanent hearing loss is among the most prevalent of congenital disorders, occurring in one to three per 1,000 live births (American Academy of Pediatrics Taskforce on Newborn and Infant Hearing. 1999; U.S. Public Law, 1998). By this estimate, approximately 10-30 newborns will be identified with hearing loss each year in Alaska. If left undetected, newborn hearing loss will impair speech, language, cognitive, and social/emotional development (American Academy of Pediatrics Taskforce on Newborn and Infant Hearing, 1999; U.S. Public Law, 1998). In the United States, hearing loss is more prevalent than any of the more than 30 metabolic disorders for which Alaska screens overall, approximately 1:10,000 (Oregon Public Health Lab Data; 2007). Nationally, over 50 percent of newborns with hearing impairments remain undetected until between the ages of two and three (Yoshinaga-Itano, C., Sedey, A., Coulter,D., and Mehl,A., 1998). Infants/children identified with hearing loss by six months of age demonstrate significantly better language scores than those identified after six months of age. For infants/children with normal cognitive abilities, a language advantage was evident for all ages tested, methods of communication, severity of hearing loss, and socio-economic status. The language advantage was also independent of gender, minority status, and the presence/absence of additional disabilities (National Center for Hearing Assessment and Management, 2000).