Sound Scouts Blog

Stay up to date with the latest in hearing health and technology.

The question ringing in our ears: Will the Senate Inquiry Recommendation to check our children’s hearing at the start of school be heard?

What does it mean when, a Federal Inquiry that has spent just shy of a year investigating Australia’s hearing health, recommends that children should have their hearing tested at the start of school? One can only assume that there’s good cause for this Recommendation, that it’s based on consultation with key opinion leaders, that it’s supported by research and that it should indeed be put into action.

So what led the Inquiry to make this Recommendation? It’s most likely because the impacts of undetected hearing problems on children are far-reaching.

On an individual level, the consequences of undetected hearing loss can result in delays in language development and delays in reading and understanding, which all impact learning and academic achievement. Research shows that 37% of children with minimal hearing loss are likely to fail at least one grade. Children with more severe undetected hearing loss face an even greater battle. Undetected hearing loss can also impact a child’s ability to socialise, to make friends and participate in conversations. A child who can’t hear may struggle academically AND become socially isolated.

With all the demands our children face at the moment, the added pressure of not being able to hear may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. A child who misbehaves may not be naughty or disobedient, they may just not be able to hear.

At a state or national level, the consequences of undetected hearing loss can impose significant costs to the education system, the health system, and in some cases even the justice system whereby an affected child grows up to be excluded from society (and the economy) due to the challenges they may have faced earlier on, and may continue to face if their hearing loss has not been addressed. It is critical that even a mild loss is identified as quickly as possible to ensure all children have the opportunity to learn and grow.

BUT… I hear you say! Our babies have their hearing tested at birth! Well yes they do, which is great BUT this test isn’t a guarantee of lifelong good hearing. The newborn test picks up babies born with moderate to profound hearing loss to ensure they get hearing aids or a cochlear implant as soon as possible. BUT the fact is that hearing loss can develop at any time. Data from Australian Hearing detailing when children get their first hearing aids shows that more children are fitted with hearing aids in the first three years of school than the number of children fitted at birth. Many of these children are likely to have missed much of those critical first years of learning.

Hearing aids are typically the solution for permanent or sensorineural hearing loss, which is the least common type of hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss, which is far more prevalent, and can be caused by a blockage in the ear (due to fluid or wax) may require surgery to correct the problem. You’ve likely heard of glue ear and grommets. Glue ear can cause hearing loss that will impact a child in the same way as a permanent hearing loss so it’s just as important to detect and treat.

There are also brain based hearing issues that mean some children can hear in quiet but they can’t hear in noisy environments, like classrooms! The brain is involved in the hearing process and sometimes it doesn’t work properly but it can be retrained if the problem is detected.

The classroom environment can be especially challenging for a child who suffers from hearing loss. Tell-tale signs include: inattentiveness, trouble following directions, inappropriate responses and loudness. While a child with hearing loss might develop coping strategies (like lip reading) that work in the quiet home environment these strategies are unlikely to work in the classroom and noisy playground.

And it’s for this reason that it’s imperative our children are offered a hearing test around the time they start school. But how can we screen for hearing loss without it costing the country a fortune? With technology!

Technology can now provide cost effective solutions to enable screening at scale. Schools can equip themselves with reliable, evidence based screening tools to minimize the consequences of undetected hearing loss in children. For example Catholic schools in western Victoria have adopted Sound Scouts as a preliminary hearing screening tool for their students. Initially only used in remote areas to determine if a student needed to travel the long distance to see an audiologist the App, having proven itself to be cost-effective and reliable, has now been widely adopted as a part of the “student referral process”, supporting schools to efficiently complete the necessary hearing assessment requirements.

There’s no denying the lifelong impact of undetected hearing loss on our children. The Senate Inquiry has looked at the evidence and has made the Recommendation that our children should have their hearing tested around the time they start school, the solution to do this cost effectively is now available so what are we waiting for?

Australia it’s time to make a change! Let’s use technology to its best advantage and ensure our children can HEAR.

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What if hearing loss also meant “brain loss”?

When you think of the term “hearing loss”, what do you think of?

Most people typically think about their ears, and the ability to hear their surroundings. There’s more to it than just that. What if hearing loss also meant “brain loss”?

Hearing loss can be linked to cognitive (brain) loss, by way of thinking, if you don’t use it you lose it. Before we go any further, let us define what cognition means.

Cognition: noun. the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.

Okay, we’re back! So, cognitive brain function can be compromised over time for those that live with hearing problems. Let’s consider the 3 basic types of hearing loss (yes, there are different types!):

  1. Conductive hearing loss: caused by blockage, infections, glue ear – these can be cured with treatment.
  2. Sensorineural hearing loss: This is permanent and may require the use of a hearing aid.
  3. Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD): This is a brain based hearing issue and it can be treated. It is the inability to understand and process sounds in noisy environments.

The more you know…

CAPD is said to affect about two to five percent of children, worldwide. Sure, this sounds unlikely, but if you take an average classroom of 20 primary school children, there is, on average, 1 child in this classroom who is struggling with CAPD – their brain is not processing sound the way it should.

Meet Hannah. Hannah has CAPD.

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In this case, Hannah (and her parents) may not even know she has a hearing problem, let alone a form of hearing loss. Let’s talk about that. In a noisy classroom environment (have you seen the movie ‘Kindergarten Cop’?), a child with CAPD will hear noise, but will struggle to discern and understand what people are saying.

They may even be “misdiagnosed” by their teacher and peers as having A.D.D. Hey, it happens.

This continual struggle to try and guess what others are saying gradually depletes Hannah’s cognitive reserve. Think of it as a daily, uphill battle. Hannah’s ability to learn and keep up with the rest of her class is compromised, thus putting her at a major disadvantage early in life.

Traditional hearing tests can always be done with a professional audiologist, but before investing your time, energy, and money, you’ll want to do some at-home screening. If you’re reading this, you are most likely a parent. Your time and resources are of the essence.

You have options.

The implementation of a universal hearing screening program for children in their first year of school is being looked at by Australian Parliament, but for now, no promises are being made. Take matters into your own hands and test your children for hearing problems today.

Early intervention is key. Age 4 years and 9 months or older (or before the school term begins) is prime time to test your child for the 3 types of hearing loss. That being said, it’s never too late to test your child’s hearing.

For those children who experience hearing loss, the most profound impact can be the effect on their everyday lives and relationships with family and friends.

Visit www.soundscouts.com and download the hearing test app today.

Clinically-Proven App Reinvents Hearing Tests for Kids

Written by: Garion Thain

It’s September, which means parents around Australia are starting to prepare their little ones for Kindergarten next year. For young children, this is a critical time for developing basic communication and learning skills. It’s a time to look, listen and learn. Keeping close track of a child’s development allows for early intervention, at a time when their strengths and weaknesses become most evident.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 32 million children worldwide have disabling hearing loss. Children with hearing loss benefit greatly from early intervention as undetected, or unidentified hearing loss raises the likelihood of academic underperformance.

Australian parents now have an ace up their sleeves thanks to the award-winning hearing App “Sound Scouts”. Sound Scouts Ltd and the National Acoustic Laboratories collaborated to produce the clinically validated hearing test that has been lauded for its ability to identify hearing issues in children through game play. The App has won Gold in the Australian Computer Society’s Digital Disruptor Awards along with taking out the Health and Technology Category at the renowned SXSW Pitch Event in Austin Texas.

Available as a tablet game on iOS and Android, the game surreptitiously tests children on their hearing ability and provides parents with a report detailing the test results, including how their child compares to other children of the same age. For parents, this means they can comfortably test their child for potential hearing problems, and for the child, it means they get to enjoy the experience.

Professor Harvey Dillon from the National Acoustics Laboratories (NAL), says the game had to pass rigorous clinical testing and has a sound scientific basis as well as a creative one. “[The game’s] scientific principles allow it to detect a wide range of hearing problems,” said Professor Dillon.

“These include conductive hearing loss, arising from infections or glue ear; sensorineural hearing loss, which is permanent; and central auditory processing disorder which is a brain based hearing issue that results in children not being able to hear in noisy environments, like classrooms”.

Some of the parents who have downloaded Sound Scouts have had the ultimate benefit. Kylie, mum of Kindergartner, Elyse, identified her daughter’s hearing loss using the App. Otherwise she says it may have gone unnoticed. “We just thought she had a loud personality,” she said. “We visited an ear, nose, and throat specialist who confirmed Elyse needed surgery for glue ear.”

Sound Scouts developers hope to see the App adopted for screening all kindergarten children. If children struggle to hear, they’ll struggle to learn so there’s no better time to pick up the App and test your children than before they start school.

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To learn more about hearing tests for kids, visit www.soundscouts.com.

The top 5 questions about children and hearing loss

The impact of hearing loss in children is still commonly misunderstood. We recently asked our Facebook followers 5 questions to find out what they knew about this issue. Here are our answers:

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  1. Do Australian Primary school children have their hearing checked when they start school?

In most states and territories, Australian primary school children do not have their hearing checked before starting school. In NSW, preschool children are offered a sight test, but not a hearing test.

  1. Children who have their hearing tested at birth, and have no hearing loss, never need to get their hearing tested hearing again. True or false?

Many hearing issues can develop in the years after birth. Illness, injury and genetics can cause a child to develop debilitating hearing loss. If left untreated, they can have a profound impact on their life. As a result, more children are first fitted with hearing aids during the first three years of school than are fitted in their first year of life (as shown by data from Australian Hearing).

  1. Hearing problems are a common cause of speech, learning and behavioural problems in Australian children. True or False?

A child who can’t understand their teacher, can’t give their full attention to learning.

The consequences for the child include:

  • delays in speech and language development
  • difficulties in learning to read because of an inability to focus on and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words
  • trouble in social situations, and
  • increased risk of academic failure. [1]

According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), children who have mild to moderate hearing loss and don’t get help, are likely to fall behind anywhere from one to four grade levels.

  1. Not all hearing loss is permanent. True or False?

Sensorineural hearing lossis a permanent condition. It’s typically treated by the use of hearing aids.

Conductive loss can be caused by issues in the outer or middle ear. It can be treated by clearing the blockage (such as wax) or taking medication. In some cases, surgery is needed to treat the problem.

There’s also a brain-based hearing issue called spatial processing disorder (SPD). This affects a child’s ability to hear in noise. Once identified, hearing care professionals can treat the problem easily.

Whatever the hearing problem, the right treatment can ensure a better outcome for every child.

  1. If a child has undetected hearing loss it will impact their ability to learn and socialise. True or False?

Delays in identifying hearing loss in children, and putting appropriate interventions in place, can result in a significantly lower school performance.

It’s critical that even mild hearing loss is identified as soon as possible. [2] Unfortunately, many children with hearing loss or auditory processing disorder go undiagnosed. They’re often misdiagnosed as “inattentive”, “ADD”, “ADHD”, “dyslexic”, “learning disabled” or as having behavioural problems.

Early detection is the best solution.
 

If you’re concerned about your child’s hearing, go to iTunes or the Google App store and download the Sound Scouts app today.
 

[1] Bilateral hearing loss is associated with decreased nonverbal intelligence in US children aged 6 to 16 years, Emmett, S.D. and Francis H.W, Laryngoscope, (2014)

[2] The minimally hearing-impaired child. Bess F, Ear and Hearing (1985)

ADHD and hearing loss

 

Could inattention in your child actually be hearing loss?

Children with unaddressed hearing issues are often labelled as disruptive or inattentive.  Before any diagnosis of ADHD it is important that other factors or undiagnosed conditions that might be responsible for inattention are eliminated. 

For example a child might have ongoing middle-ear infections causing hearing problems.  A simple hearing check can rule this out and make sure your child receives the right intervention to help them thrive in and out of the classroom.

According to Australian Hearing more children are fitted with hearing aids after they start school than are fitted after hearing checks at birth. This is because hearing loss can occur at any time and parents need to check their child’s hearing regularly. 

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If your child is experiencing any of the symptoms below – you should make sure they get their hearing checked.

Poor academic performance

A child who is having trouble hearing the teacher might be missing out on important instruction as well as the important peer group interaction that supports learning. 

Inattentiveness

If a child is unable to recognise who is talking or hear what is being said they might appear to be inattentive. This inattentiveness is not a lack of focus but simply the result of the child not being able to hear.

Not responding when spoken to

A child in a noisy environment, such as a classroom, who is unable to recognise who is talking or where a voice is coming from due to an Auditory Processing Disorder (a brain based hearing issue) is not ignoring the speaker but simply can’t hear their name being called.

Acting out

Frustration at being misunderstood or not being able to understand friends, family or teachers can lead to disruptive or inappropriate behaviour.

Inappropriate responses to questions

Sometimes mishearing a question or a conversation can result in unusual responses from children trying to fit in.

Difficulty with social interactions

Relationships can be adversely affected due to not being able to hear interactions between peers.

Low self esteem

Struggling with all these issues will eventually have an impact on a child’s self esteem.  Addressing a child’s hearing loss is critical to ensuring they can thrive.

Making sure that a hearing check is included in the assessments made early in your child’s journey through school can avoid unhelpful labels and ensure measures are put in place to help your child adapt to the new school environment with ease.

World Hearing Day

March 3 is WORLD HEARING DAY. A day to shine a light on the cost of unaddressed hearing loss to both the individual and the economy. The World Health Organisation estimates the global cost of unaddressed hearing loss is a staggering $750billion.

Impacting educational outcomes, social integration, productivity and happiness hearing loss takes a mighty toll.

We encourage all parents to check their children’s hearing around the time they start school. It’s a small investment to ensure a bright future.

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Does your child… have trouble with their hearing?

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Masters of Disguise: Is your child hiding a hearing issue?

Unmasking a hearing issue could be key to a positive experience at school

Children can be angels at school and devils at home.  But their ability to shape shift might be hiding a hearing issue that would benefit from further investigation.

Below is a guide to some behaviours that might be hiding a hearing issue.

The Troublemaker

Kids who are frustrated, aggressive, act out and have high energy levels are often identified as having symptoms of ADHD. But these symptoms are shared with undiagnosed hearing loss.  Underdeveloped communication skills, difficulty in hearing instructions and exhaustion from paying attention in loud classrooms all lead to frustration, aggression and acting out.

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The Daydreamer

Staring out the window might not be a sign of wishing they were somewhere over the rainbow. A child with hearing loss finds it hard to hear in a noisy environment like a classroom. Exhaustion from straining to hear might mean that they take time out from listening hard. Alternatively they might not be aware that the teacher is talking to them because they simply can’t hear the teacher.

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The Loud Talker

We have all found ourselves saying “I can’t hear myself think in this noise”. Kids with hearing loss often can’t hear themselves talk. They increase the volume of their voice in line with what they can hear. We can become accustomed to the volume at which someone speaks just like we don’t notice the extra inch they have grown. It might take an outsider to comment on how loud your child is talking before you think there is a problem.

The Silent Type

It is difficult to contribute to a conversation both inside the classroom and out if you don’t know someone is talking.  Some children’s hearing issue is interpreted as shyness.  They are not contributing to class discussions because it is too hard to hear.  The playground is equally tough. A child with hearing issues might find themselves isolated because they are missing out on the subtle communication between their peers.

The Hard Stare

Your child might not be looking into your eyes while you are speaking. They could be working very hard to watch your lips moving. Children learn to cover their inability to hear well by watching the lips, facial expressions and body language of the speaker for communication cues.  A simple test doctors use to check if a child is hiding a hearing loss is to place a piece of paper over their mouth while talking to the child. You can determine quickly if a child is depending on reading your lips to understand what you are saying.

The Collaborator

Communication cues are everywhere. The child who finds it hard to hear in a noisy classroom will use the rest of the class to help explain to them what the teacher is saying.  Some classroom layouts don’t facilitate children being able to see the teacher at all times.  Your master of disguise may never be noticed as having a hearing issue because their friends are giving them some of the information they need. But, they are missing out on important incidental information conveyed by voiced sounds.

Unmasking a hearing issue could change a child’s life

Kids are very adaptable.  They are skilled in finding strategies to ensure no unwanted attention is drawn to them. A hearing issue might not be the first consideration of a parent or a teacher. However, children with hearing issues benefit from early intervention.  A simple hearing test can determine if a child has a hearing issue. Once the hearing issue is identified they can start focusing on learning rather than their disguise.

Visit Sound Scouts website for more information about a hearing test that can be done at home. www.soundscouts.com.au

 

Welcome to Sound Scouts – A Children’s Hearing Test

Hi. My name is Carolyn Mee and I am the Founder of Sound Scouts, a mobile App developed to check children’s hearing.

So why, you may ask, do we need a children’s hearing test. We know that in Australia children have their hearing checked at birth through the newborn hearing screening program, which is fabulous. This test picks up babies born with moderate to severe hearing loss and ensures they are fitted with hearing aids or cochlear implants as early as possible to minimise the impact of their hearing loss on their development.

Unfortunately what many parents don’t realise is that for every child found to have hearing loss at birth at least two more children are detected with hearing loss in the first three years of school. Which means some children are at school for three years with a hearing loss that no one knows about and this loss can impact their learning, socialising and their self-esteem. And of course these are the children who are lucky enough to get noticed. There’s no doubt many others who struggle with undetected hearing loss throughout their school years.

All our children should have their hearing tested before they start school so they have every opportunity to succeed. But unfortunately hearing screening is not currently being offered to Australian children so it’s up to parents to ensure their children can hear.

For adults it’s hard to imagine that a child isn’t able to recognise that their ears aren’t working properly. But how does a child know what normal hearing is if they’ve never experience it. You don’t know what you don’t know. And children adapt. They learn to lip read and they take their cues from what others are doing around them. They get by. Or so they think.

We recently met a 12year old Year 5 boy, who had a moderate hearing loss that no one had noticed. He was a quiet young man who had become withdrawn and because he wasn’t causing a fuss no one worried about him. His life outcomes would have been seriously limited by his hearing loss if we had not picked it up. Other children with hearing issues become noisy and disruptive. Because they can’t hear they lose interest and draw attention to themselves. In this situation one child with undetected hearing loss in the classroom can affect the entire class.

So the question is not why test but why not test?

Sound Scouts lets adults check a child’s hearing at home or at school, at a time that suits them. The children love it and it gives everyone peace of mind that a child is not being disadvantaged by a condition that can be remedied.

If you’ve screamed at your child “Are you deaf?” then it might be time to check that they’re not!

www.soundscouts.com.au