DEAF children have better reading skills if their hearing loss is identified by nine months old, a Southampton study has found.

A team from the University of Southampton has been following the development of a group of children identified as deaf at a very early age in a pilot programme conducted in the city in the 1990s.

And follow up tests at ages eight and 17 have shown those who were screened for deafness at birth have better language skills than those who were not.

The study measured the teenagers' level of reading development and found the gap between the early and late confirmed groups had doubled between the two assessments.

Colin Kennedy, professor of neurology and paediatrics at the University of Southampton and a consultant paediatric neurologist at Southampton General Hospital, led the study.

He said: “Our previous work has shown that children exposed to newborn hearing screening had, on average, better language and reading abilities at age eight years. We are now able to show that this screening programme can benefit these children into their teenage years.

Now the Southampton team is calling for the Government to fund a universal screening programme for newborns to increase early diagnoses.