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July 2018 Canberra Times

Yinghara Hoolihan’s parents had a gut feeling something was wrong, with recurring ear infections, behavioural problems and speech problems. During a regular a visit to Canberra's Winnunga Aboriginal Health Service he had his ears tested through an Australian Hearing outreach clinic, finding he had undiagnosed hearing loss. Soon after, he was given hearing aids to wear and had surgery to put in grommets and remove his adenoids and tonsils.

Yinghara’s eyes lit up the first time he was fitted with his hearing aids. “What’s that mummy,” he would ask as a bird chirped or a car blew its horn. His speech, behaviour and even sleep improved dramatically.

Yinghara is one of an increasing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children whose lives have been improved by getting hearing help at an earlier age.

But according to Australian Hearing, there is more work to be done to reduce the significantly higher rates of hearing problems Indigenous Australians face compared to other Australians.

Jonelle and Yingara

Jonelle Hoolihan and son Yinghara Hoolihan 3.

Australian Hearing tracked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s hearing aid fitting data for the past 10 years. According to its research one in four Aboriginal children now receive their hearing aids before the age of five, a significant improvement from 2008 when only one in ten received them before the age of five. Acting Managing Director of Australian Hearing Kim Terrell said early access to sound was vital for children.

"The first three years is so important for learning language and learning to listen," he said. "Language connects the next generation to their family, communities and cultural stories, and sets children up for success, giving them the opportunity to reach their full potential."

YingaraYinghara Hoolihan 3 playing on the playground.

In 2017‑18 Australian Hearing provided help to more than 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and children. This was achieved through mainstream and outreach programs in more than 230 urban, regional and remote communities across Australia. The organisation has also launched a six-month trial of a tele-outreach service that provides a follow-up appointment with hearing impaired children in remote locations via video-chat after they are fitted with their first hearing aid.

Australian Hearing audiologist Samantha Harkus said the first few weeks with a hearing aid are critical. "It’s a time when extra support is needed,” she said.  “However, in remote communities there is usually less assistance available for families."

Ms Hoolihan is confident Yinghara, with his hearing on track, will now have the best opportunities to succeed in life and education. "For Aboriginal children, ear health problems are really quite high in his age group, for us getting on top of it early and before school has definitely benefited his wellbeing and development," she said.

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