Picture day… field trip… early dismissal… and hearing screenings! It may seem like there are an endless number of “special events” that pull your child’s class away from regular instructional time, but at least for hearing screenings, it’s definitely worth the missed academics.
State-mandated hearing screenings are a vital tool for catching mild to moderate hearing losses that could have a significant impact on children’s academic performance. A hearing loss, even a mild one, can have a significant effect on a student’s speech/language development, social communication skills, and ability to learn and participate in school. Particularly if a hearing loss is mild or late-developing, it may have been missed in previous screenings or doctor visits, and the school screenings provide an important opportunity for catching these issues quickly.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, by November 1 of each year, schools must provide hearing screenings to all students in kindergarten, first grade, third grade, fifth grade, and ninth grade. For children in special education classes, the screenings are done at equivalent ages to these grades. This means that if your child is in one of these grades, s/he has likely recently completed a hearing screening, and you may be receiving (or may have already received) results of this screening.
There are numerous methods of testing hearing but the most common for general school-based screenings is pure tone air-conduction audiometry, a short task in which the student wears headphones and indicates hearing a series of beeps in each ear by raising his/her hand. (Some schools also perform tympanometry tests to screen for problems related not to the hearing function itself but to other middle-ear obstructions like fluid or wax.) When typical audiometry tests are not possible (i.e. if the child is not able to follow the directions necessary for indicating that s/he hears a sound), other options exist such as otoacoustic emissions testing (OAE), which measures a signal from the ear that is produced automatically without the need for conscious behavioral participation. Together these options provide a comprehensive plan for screening all school-aged children in the relevant grades.
The goal of the hearing screenings is to identify children who are suspected of having a hearing loss and referring them for further, more in-depth testing. A common misconception is that hearing screenings are used to diagnose hearing loss and hearing difficulties, but this is not the case. The screening is simply a tool that identifies students who require more complete testing to determine whether there is indeed a hearing problem. There are instances of “false-positives,” meaning that a child may initially fail a hearing screening but pass an in-depth audiology examination, indicating no actual hearing problem. Generally, if students fail a hearing screening, they will be re-screened a few weeks later before a referral is made in order to reduce this chance of false positives.
If you receive a report that your child has failed his/her hearing screening, don’t panic. “Fail” is an unfortunately strong word in this context that sometimes causes undue worry, when in fact it just means “requires more attention.” Do follow up with referral recommendations in a timely manner, however, either with your pediatrician or with an audiologist recommended by your child’s school. While false positives are certainly possible, if your child does indeed have a hearing issue, the best thing you can do for him/her is to identify the problem early so that you can begin getting him/her the intervention necessary to address and remediate the problem. Fortunately, there are many highly effective options for hearing loss, and early identification puts your child on the best path to get back on track with his/her learning and success.
Written by: Anna Fredman, M.S., CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist