Context: Newborn hearing screening programs have been implemented in many countries because it was thought that the earlier permanent childhood hearing impairment is detected, the less developmentally disadvantaged children would become. To date, however, no strong evidence exists for universal introduction of newborn hearing screening.
Objective: To study the effect of newborn hearing screening vs distraction hearing screening, conducted at 9 months of age, on development, spoken communication, and quality of life.
Design, setting, and participants: Between 2002 and 2006, all 65 regions in The Netherlands replaced distraction hearing screening with newborn hearing screening. Consequently, the type of hearing screening offered was based on availability at the place and date of birth and was independent of developmental prognoses of individual children. All children born in The Netherlands between 2003 and 2005 were included. At the age of 3 to 5 years, all children with permanent childhood hearing impairment were identified. Evaluation ended December 2009.
Main outcome measures: Performance (education and spoken and signed communication), development (general and language), and quality of life.
Results: During the study period, 335,560 children were born in a newborn hearing screening region and 234,826 children in a distraction hearing screening region. At follow-up, 263 children in newborn hearing screening regions (0.78 per 1000 children) and 171 children in distraction hearing screening regions (0.73 per 1000 children) had been diagnosed with permanent childhood hearing impairment. Three hundred one children (69.4%) participated in analysis of general performance measures. There was no difference between groups in the primary mode of communication or type of education. Analysis of extensive developmental outcomes included 80 children born in newborn hearing screening regions and 70 in distraction hearing screening regions. Multivariate analysis of variance showed that overall, children in newborn hearing screening regions had higher developmental outcome scores compared with children in distraction hearing screening regions (Wilks λ = 0.79; F(12) = 2.705; P = .003). For social development, the mean between-group difference in quotient points was 8.8 (95% CI, 0.8 to 16.7) and for gross motor development, 9.1 (95% CI, 1.1 to 17.1). For quality of life, the mean between-group difference was 5.3 (95% CI, 1.7 to 8.9), also in favor of children in newborn hearing screening regions.
Conclusion: Compared with distraction hearing screening, a newborn hearing screening program was associated with better developmental outcomes at age 3 to 5 years among children with permanent childhood hearing impairment.