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Benefits of Early Hearing Checks for School Children

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It is important for parents and teachers to look out for signs of possible hearing problems in children. The sooner advice is sought, the quicker appropriate action can be taken. To illustrate this, here is Jordan’s story; although this story is real, the children’s names have been changed.

Case study 

Jordan was a happy and friendly child who loved to learn new things and play with his friends. He was always curious and eager to explore the world around him. But something changed when Jordan was four years old. He started to have trouble paying attention, sitting still, and following instructions. Jordan would often daydream, get frustrated easily, and shout at people. Sometimes he would even get aggressive and hit or bite others. His parents and teachers thought Jordan might have a problem, such as ADHD or autism, but they didn’t know what to do.

They tried to talk to Jordan, but he didn’t seem to listen. They tried to use discipline, but Jordan didn’t seem to understand or care. His parents tried to help, but Jordan didn’t seem to want it. They asked Jordan what he wanted, but they didn’t get an answer.

One day, some people from the school entry hearing screening team, using specialist SchoolScreener software, showed up at the school to check all the children’s hearing. To assess the kids’ hearing abilities, they used a unique tool that Thomson Screening had created. When it was his turn, Jordan put on the headphones and waited for the sounds. But he didn’t respond to anything. Jordan thought it was a game, so started pressing the button randomly. The screening team noticed that he didn’t pass the test, and they suspected that Jordan might have a hearing problem.

They referred Jordan to the local paediatric audiology team, who confirmed that he had a conductive hearing loss. This means that the sound waves could not reach Jordan’s inner ear, because there was fluid in his middle ear. This made everything sound muffled and distorted, and it had even affected his speech and language development.

The audiology team explained that Jordan needed to have ventilation tubes inserted in his ears, which would drain the fluid and restore his hearing. But they also said that the waiting time for this procedure was 4-6 months, and they didn’t want to delay Jordan’s treatment. So, the audiologists offered Jordan a bone conduction hearing aid, which is a device that bypasses the middle ear and sends the sound vibrations directly to the inner ear through the skull. 

They fitted Jordan with the hearing aid and turned it on. Immediately, Jordan could hear sounds he hadn’t heard for a very long time. He could even hear his own voice. Jordan was amazed and delighted at hearing the voices of his parents and the audiology team. However, at first it was all bit too much, and feeling overwhelmed, Jordan took the device off. Later on, he tried again and outside he heard the sounds of the birds and the cars in the distance. He heard music and laughter. He heard the world.

From then on, Jordan wore the hearing aid every day, except when it was very loud, and everyone noticed a big difference. Jordan could hear what people were saying, and he could respond. Jordan could follow instructions and complete tasks. He could join conversations, make jokes, play with his friends, and share his feelings. Jordan was back to being the happy and friendly child he used to be. He was grateful to the school entry hearing screening team and the audiology team for discovering his problem and helping him. Jordan was proud of himself for overcoming his challenge and learning new skills. Finally, Jordan was happy.

While all of this was still ongoing, Jordan’s parents had a second thought. They always wondered why Jordan’s 11-year-old sibling, Auden, was so shy and quiet. The teachers often commented that Auden would hardly participate in lessons and sometimes give very strange answers that were missing the point.

So, the parents decided to take Auden for a hearing test. Soon they found out that Auden must have developed a permanent hearing loss soon after birth that had slowly worsened over the next 10 years. After being given hearing aids, Auden’s journey began as she started to hear and notice what she had been unable to hear before and why, in the past, learning had been so difficult.

Identifying hearing issues can be challenging

Children and young people can present in so many different ways if they cannot hear. Some only have difficulties with some voices and not others. So having a very low threshold for suggesting that a child has had a hearing assessment or hearing check is very helpful. Also, normal hearing last week can still mean that a cold can make it difficult tomorrow. Even permanent hearing losses can develop and progress over time.

In the classroom

A microphone for the teacher and speakers at the back of the classroom help pupils to understand better and enable a teacher’s voice to stay quieter and therefore calmer and clearer. Shouting does not help anyone with hearing problems.

Good classroom acoustics are also important. Bare glass or concrete walls generate echoes (increase reverberation) and degrade sound information.

Most people can lip read to some extent, some better, some worse. Being able to see a teacher’s face well when they are talking really helps. So, asking someone to listen and write at the same time disadvantages everyone with hearing problems, even if they wear hearing aids. Hearing aids make things louder, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the sound is normal.

Takeaway

Please be curious and think about hearing. Teachers can make such a positive difference to children with hearing difficulties. If you have a school entry hearing screen team coming, please help them find a quiet room for testing and support them in seeing all children.

More help and resources




Sebastian Hendricks, MD is a consultant in paediatric audiovestibular medicine at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children and medical director of hearing at Thomson Screening.

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