New online tool launches to help parents detect hearing loss in kids

Picture: Archie (center) with his mum Emily and family
Picture: Archie (center) with his mum Emily and family 

When little Archie Mason took a little longer with his speech than his older siblings, his mum Emily wasn't initially too concerned.

Taking him to a speech pathologist, it was recommended she get him a hearing test at age two. As he had some hearing, Emily thought it couldn't be anything too serious. 

Then she was told her son had moderate hearing loss.

"He doesn't have profound loss, he can hear things, so it's that grey area," she said.

"What it sounds like for him is like when you're in a busy restaurant with lots of people around you and the person across the table is speaking but you only get half the words and you smile and nod. You get the sounds in but it's not clear enough to make sense of everything." 

Hearing loss was something the family knew little about, but have since become home-experts on. 

Reaching out to services, they linked in with support and early interventions and had Archie fitted with hearing aids. Emily said everything then all started to come together really quickly.

"He became more confident and he was able to sort of speak to people outside of the family unit with less barriers, he wasn't as afraid to speak to others. Like at the shopping centre he'd talk to the checkout person, where before he'd sort of look to me for help. It's subtle changes that give you hope for the future that he'll continue to grow and fit in with everyone else," she said.

"His speech we're still working on, but I see him gaining confidence and it's huge. When he was at playgroup and he could speak to his friends and say 'no' or 'come over here' and communicate, it took a huge pressure off me."

Picture: Archie Mason

Picture: Archie Mason

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"Because as a parent you're always the person in the middle and watching that something doesn't happen because you don't want them to feel different and as a parent you take on a lot because you want to protect your little person."

Now five, Archie has just started Kindergarten and is doing great so far, thanks largely to the interventions he had. 

Aleisha Davis, General Manager of Clinical Programs at The Shepherd Centre, said while the majority of children they work with have any hearing difficulty picked up during newborn screenings, hearing loss can develop in children after birth. Issues in these kids are often not picked up until much later, meaning they have to play catch up on the therapies Archie has benefited from.

"It's often not until they come to school or are preparing for school or have been to speech therapy and by that there are often implications of living with hearing loss for a while, such as attention or listening or speech and language delays, all of those things," Ms Davis said. 

"The less the gap and the sooner a child is aided and are able to listen well, the less the impact this will have."

The centre has just launched The Listening Check, an online tool for parents to assess their child's hearing, in the hopes this will see more children referred to services earlier.

Launched to coincide with Hearing Awareness Week, it asks parents to answer a set of questions about their child's functional listening, and are then provided a guide to seeking further testing, should the results indicate it may be needed. 

It comes after research revealed 84 per cent of Australians would not know where to seek help if their child was born with or developed hearing loss, despite it impacting one in six Australians. 

Ms Davis said there's a big difference between selective hearing and hearing loss - noting that if a parent asked a child to clean their room and they appeared not to hear, that may be developmentally normal. If however, they were to not hear when asked if they wanted ice cream, it could indicate an issue. 

Other signs of hearing loss include kids having difficulty following conversations in noisy places such as school. She urged parents to have children checked out if they suspect any issues, saying with the right support, kids go on to do very well. But that early detection was vital.

"We hear it all the time 'I can't believe my children can do that now, I didn't realise how much they were missing out on', when they know how to target interventions, they realise they'd been missing out on that."

"Language is caught, not taught. Children catch language from everything around them. If they don't have access from that they may not pick it up and then they need to be smothered in thousands of words a day to learn how to use them."

"I'd just encourage parents to look out for the signs and seek help from health professionals, don't be hesitant. I believe hearing is just as important as height and weight and growth charts in the early years."

It's something Emily agrees, saying she wishes she'd had his hearing tested earlier. 

"I would say look it's really good to have it done early," she said. "Yes it's hard to be labelled and yes being told it's hearing loss is hard but when you get a diagnosis that's when you start getting help and start seeing improvements and stop worrying as much."

"And building a toolkit and getting resources and speaking to other parents, finding out about services and understanding what your kids is feeling.