Australian game tests children for hearing loss and disorders

A new app and testing is hoped to help identify hearing problems in children earlier than usual

According to research from the National Acoustics Laboratories it is common for children to start school with undiagnosed hearing problems.

An intervention program is being rolled out nationally to identify children with hearing problems including sensorineural loss, conductive loss, or auditory processing disorder.

The Federal Government has allocated $4 million to provide free testing for 600,000 children aged between 4 and 17.
Parents can register their details to be notified when the free test sessions are available in January.

Scotch College’s junior campus head Ieva Hampson said particularly in the early years, hearing issues could impact a student’s ability to develop phonemic awareness.

“Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear specific sounds and then relate them to letters and then hear them within words so it’s fundamental to reading and writing,” Ms Hampson said.

“There are lots of children who work in classrooms and you get a sense that they are probably using a bit of body language [and] lip reading to pick up on some of those gaps in the language.”

Game helps detect hearing issues

The program has started as a new app, Sound Scouts, has been commissioned by the research arm of Australian Hearing.

The 10-minute program looks like a children’s game but uses advanced hearing science to gauge the user’s hearing ability.

More than 1,000 children trialled the app and were tested both by Sound Scouts and a paediatric audiologist during the development process.

Allison Nikula’s daughter Anna started school this year in Adelaide.

She downloaded the app to test Anna’s hearing and liked how intuitively her child was able to go through the process on her own.

“Moving beyond the classroom and outside into the playground, to know that Anna and my other child Liv can hear well and can engage and interact with her peers is a really comforting thing,” Ms Nikula said.

For those students who appear to have hearing problems, the app generates a report at the end of the game that shows what the issues might be and provides a referral to an audiologist, medical practitioner or speech pathologist.
Last year Australian Hearing fitted more than 600 children with hearing aids for the first time.

Australian Hearing’s clinical coach Gemma Cooper said it is hoped the new program would also identify kids with auditory processing disorder who were unable to filter out background noise.

“Kids with this disorder can present with things like, saying ‘what’ all the time, not following instructions and needing lots of repeats and repeated instructions consistently,” she said.

“Auditory processing effects the way that you hear noise and filter speech and sound, so you can actually have normal hearing but have trouble working out what the sounds think and mean.”

There are tools and games to help reduce the effects of the disorder, but audiologists recommend using a wireless communication device at school.

There are individual headsets or systems for the whole classroom.

“Rather than making the teacher’s voice louder it distributes the sound throughout the classroom so that the children can hear sound equally no matter where they are and not rely on sitting at the teacher’s feet all the time,” Ms Hampson said.


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