Early detection of hearing loss can prevent long-term problems
Jennifer Stephenson of Pathology Services of Robeson Inc. in Lumberton says that is why she and others have been pushing so hard to get more people screened for hearing loss. May is Better Speech and Hearing Month, but Stephenson says hearing loss is something that needs to be highlighted year-round. The month-long observance has been around since 1927.
There are more than 46 million American who are affected with some type of hearing or communications disorder, according to the American Speech Language and Hearing Association.
Stephenson, who runs the clinic with her husband Ken, said her practice alone treats about 360 people a week. A native of Fairmont, Stephenson got her bachelor’s degree in communications disorders and a master’s in speech-language pathology from East Carolina University.
She said hearing problems can be especially troublesome for young children. The first four years of a child’s life are critical in terms of developing speech and language skills so any degree of hearing impairment can have a negative effect on a child’s growth.
A recent study in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that 14.9 percent of school-aged children have some degree of hearing loss. Moreover, approximately one in 800 newborns are born with a congenital hearing loss.
Once children are in the education system, teachers and parents often don’t know what is causing the child problems.
“Early identification is akey to successful communication,” she said. “A lot of people just don’t know. They don’t realize that their child may have problems answering questions because they have trouble hearing.”
Ken Stephenson, a former IBM executive, said the practice provides free speech, hearing and middle ear screenings to all 2-year-olds in the county through a grant to the Robeson County Partnership for Children/Smart Start.
“There are social and economic problems in a rural county like ours, but our goal is to get beyond that,” he said.