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Newborn Screening- More than just a heel stick!

  • When we think of newborn screening, we often think of the heel stick test, which is used to collect a sample of the baby’s blood.  In addition to the heel stick test, the hearing screen is an important, but sometimes forgotten, part of newborn screening.  All babies are screened for hearing problems usually within 24 hours after they are born but before they leave the hospital.  In this installment of the Newborn Screening Professionals series, we will hear from Dr. Anastasia Amuzu, Au.D, CCC-A, an educational audiologist for the DC government and coordinator of the newborn hearing screening program at the Providence Hospital in Washington, DC.   Audiologists specialize in working with people with hearing problems, and they are often involved in the hearing screen that is part of newborn screening. 

    To someone unfamiliar with hearing problems, audiology may seem like a very specialized field.  But since diagnosing and treating hearing loss is very complex, audiologists choose a specialty within the field of audiology.  Anastasia has three specialties: auditory processing (how the brain processes sound), pediatrics, and education. 

    As a pediatric audiologist, Anastasia works with newborns and young children.  As the newborn hearing screening coordinator, Anastasia ensures that every baby born at the hospital receives a hearing screen and the appropriate follow-up care.  This is an extremely important job because when it comes to hearing problems, “early detection is key.”   By screening for hearing problems just after a baby is born, it is possible for the baby to start using a hearing amplification device at a very young age, which allows the baby’s brain to adjust to hearing with the device.  Through early detection and treatment, it is possible that “even a child with significant hearing loss can be in the range of normal hearing.” 

    As the newborn screening coordinator, Anastasia works to “make sure the program is family centered.”  She ensures that families are getting the support they need, whether it is information, referrals, or even transportation to and from the hospital.  Anastasia reminds parents who are nervous about their child’s upcoming hearing screen that the screen is “like a guide.”  An abnormal screen indicates that further testing is needed, but does not necessarily mean that the baby has a hearing problem.  In addition, she encourages parents to ask any questions and seek out help when needed.  

    Anastasia is also an educator who teaches children, families, school teachers, and other healthcare professionals about hearing problems and treatments.   Her favorite aspect of this role is the “interaction with the children and parents.”  Educating parents is important because they are a vital part of the team, which also includes healthcare and educational professions, who will care for their child.  Parents who are educated about their child’s hearing problem can serve as advocates, and in the future, can provide support and encouragement as their child learns to be a self-advocate.  

    An audiologist will probably play a role in every baby’s newborn hearing screening, whether they coordinate the program, like Anastasia, or they administer the actual hearing screen, or they provide follow-up care after a diagnosis.  They are experts in hearing and are able to serve as a resource to parents whose baby is having a newborn hearing screen. 

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