Sept 2017 Huffington Post Australia
Sydney mother Anthea Hunter had no clue her four-year-old daughter Summer had any hearing issues. After all, she passed early hearing checks with flying colours and she seemed to be doing well at pre-school. But when another local mum, Carolyn Mee, was in the early stages of developing a game to help her Sound Scouts game, to detect hearing loss in children, Hunter offered then-four year old Summer to be a case study. Hunter was shocked to learn that Summer had severe hearing loss. Further tests found she was born with 'sensorineural loss'.
Hunter said there is no history of hearing loss within the family, and Summer has had no serious childhood illnesses (often a cause of hearing loss in children); so she'd never thought about getting further tests. "When Summer played Sound Scouts, I didn't think anything of it as I had no idea she had any hearing issues. Your child plays a fun game and, as the game continues, the background noise is gradually increased. But, as the noise increased, Summer could no longer hear the game's instructions, Hunter said. It was really shocking to see that she could no longer hear”
"Summer's hearing loss means that if she's doing group work at school, she is only able to hear what's happening on her table, if there's not much background noise. But, once there's background noise, she cannot hear the people she is sitting closest to. So it really has a serious impact on her life."
There's no universal hearing screening program for children entering primary school, which means many are starting school with hearing loss. These kids can be inattentive, easily-distracted and find listening to instructions difficult. Many kids end up being misdiagnosed with an attention disorder, leading to needless and potentially dangerous prescription medication use. Dr Henry Cutler, from the Macquarie University Centre for the Health Economy, is in the process of evaluating Sound Scouts to determine the lifetime benefits of screening upon entering school. He said parents need to know the risks posed by childhood hearing conditions. "It's extremely important parents test their child's hearing, beyond the newborn test. Because if a child goes undiagnosed with hearing loss, it can have lifetime consequences in terms of mental health, income and employment," Dr Cutler said. "The newborn test is good for testing congenital hearing loss at birth, but some kids acquire hearing loss in the first five years of life. So it's very important for kids to be tested before entering school, so parents know they can fully engage in the classroom."
Summer is now aged eight, wearing a hearing aid and doing extremely well in the classroom, as well as the all-important playground. "Summer didn't know there was anything wrong with her hearing. For her, it was just normal that she would stop hearing if the background noise became too loud," said Anthea Hunter. Sound Scouts is now receiving funding from NSW Health and it can be downloaded via an app.