With approximately 15 percent of school-aged children experiencing some degree of hearing loss, hearing screenings represent a crucial early step in ensuring communication access, which is key to academic and social success, according to Dr. Lindsay Bondurant, director of the University’s Osborne College of Audiology’s (OCA) on-campus clinic, the Pennsylvania Ear Institute (PEI)
. The desire to give back to the community and to ensure Audiology students
have an increased number of opportunities to experience pediatric patients was the driving force behind the creation of PEI’s school hearing screening program, which launched prior to the 2016-17 academic year.
“School hearing screenings are something I feel very strongly about because if a child is having trouble hearing, it’s going to spill over into every area of their life,” she said. “They are likely to have difficulty learning, following directions, making friends, demonstrating appropriate behavior, social activities, even sports – all kinds of things hearing and listening play a large role in.”
On 25 different mornings during the fall and spring semesters, Dr. Bondurant or Dr. Jenny Rajan, assistant professor and pediatric audiologist at PEI, along with a group of Audiology students could be seen carrying their audiometers and a kit of screening supplies as they headed out to local schools as part of the Doctor of Audiology clinical training program. Once on site, screening stations were set up in libraries, classrooms and offices so the audiologists in training could see as many students as possible. More than 2,000 children enrolled in Philadelphia and suburban schools were screened during the 2016-17 academic year alone.
Dr. Bondurant feels both PEI and OCA have a responsibility to help local school children due to their unique positioning in the Philadelphia area.
“Especially in current times, school districts are really crunched for time and money and school nurses have a lot of responsibilities,” Dr. Bondurant said. “It’s difficult for them to be able to screen the number of kids mandated by the state. I feel like that’s an opportunity for us to assist them to the extent that we can because we have the only Doctor of Audiology training program in the Philadelphia area.”
In addition to gaining experience screening and providing care to children of all ages, performing the hearing screenings in a school as opposed to in a clinical setting presented some interesting insights for the students. Concrete walls, open windows, children laughing and talking are all factors that can interfere with hearing.
“I want my students to be able to think about what a challenge it would be for a child with normal hearing to listen in that situation, let alone a child with hearing loss,” Dr. Bondurant said. “It gives the students a very different perspective on the things we need to be doing to support kids with hearing loss and how important these types of outreach initiatives are for identifying these kids.”
Seeing such a large number of children also led to some interesting and unusual findings — infections, tumors and foreign objects in the ear, just to name a few. The screenings not only detect hearing loss, but can also help identify children who may have a medical condition requiring additional care.
Without hearing screenings, recognizing a hearing issue can be challenging for both teachers and parents. Children with hearing difficulties may not realize they have an issue and may be perceived as an unmotivated student or one with poor attention skills, according to Dr. Bondurant.
“Children with undetected hearing loss may have trouble keeping up in basic early learning skills. If they had trouble developing those early foundational skills for math and spelling, they are lacking those basic building blocks,” she said. “While they are trying to catch up, they keep falling further and further behind as other kids are moving forward. It becomes a big snowball effect, so early identification and early interventions are absolutely the name of the game.”
Even if the child has struggled with undetected and untreated hearing loss before the Salus team arrives at the school, no issue to too early or late to address, according to Dr. Bondurant.
“I think any time we identify a hearing issue with a child, we need to do anything we can to provide support to that child,” she said. “It’s never too late to do something to make their life easier and give them support.”