Outreach Audiology making a difference for children lacking access

To overcome a shortage of educational audiologists, an outreach audiology program in Seattle, USA, aims to ensure that children in smaller school districts have the same access to audiology support as those who live in urban centers.

For children with hearing differences, schools present a challenging listening environment. Research shows that children with all degrees of hearing loss are at significant risk for falling behind academically without adequate accommodations and modifications in place.  Each child and hearing loss is unique, however, accommodations do not look the same in every situation.

In many urban areas, full time educational audiologists are employed by school districts to ensure that deaf/hard of hearing (DHH) children have the supports they need. However, many school districts outside of urban areas are tasked with determining the needs of a child who is DHH without the knowledge or training to know what those needs might be.

An in-depth knowledge of hearing as well the effects of hearing loss in noise and knowledge of classroom acoustics make educational audiologists uniquely qualified to address the needs of students who are DHH and use listening and spoken language to communicate. The American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) and the Educational Audiology Association (EAA) recommend a ratio of one audiologist per every 10,000 students. At most recent count, Washington had one audiologist for every 37,071 students.1

Outreach Audiology services help address unmet need

To help address this need, the Seattle Children’s Educational Outreach Audiology program was introduced in August 2018.  Originally funded through a generous grant from the Loeb Family Foundation, Seattle Children’s Outreach Audiology offers no cost consultative audiology services for Seattle Children’s patients living in school districts without an educational audiologist, including charter and private schools. Typically, students are referred to the program by their managing audiologist. Then the family and/or school are contacted to begin the assessment of needs for the child.

Seattle Children’s audiologist, Dr. Whitney Kidd, AuD, has developed and expanded this program since its inception five years ago. To date, she has worked with over 140 students and completed over 100 site visits, either virtually or in person. School locations have ranged from northern and southern to central Washington state. Most of the students served live in small towns where they are the only child in the school who is DHH.

Services provided by Outreach Audiology might include:

  • Classroom observations to assess student and listening environment
  • Recommendations of specific accommodations and modifications, including remote learning
  • Teacher In-service (virtual or live) to discuss effects of hearing loss in the classroom and demonstrate equipment as appropriate
  • Equipment troubleshooting
  • Determining technology needs and/or fitting and demonstrating use of the device(s)
  • IEP or 504 planning
  • Functional Listening Evaluations
  • Connecting parents and schools to resources for DHH students
  • Assistance transitioning from early intervention to the school district

How students benefit from this program

Feedback from families and school districts has been overwhelmingly positive. Surveys of teachers and staff report improvements in student’s attention, participation, academics, and confidence in the classroom. They also indicated feeling more comfortable understanding their student’s unique needs and handling a student’s hearing technology when needed.

Although the need for more educational audiologists persists, the ability to play a small role in ensuring that Seattle Children’s audiology patients and educational teams in smaller school districts have access to audiology support is important and rewarding work. Outreach Audiology aims to continue advocating for Seattle Children’s audiology patients so they have the support they are entitled to and can eventually advocate for themselves as they enter adulthood.


Reference:

DeConde Johnson, C. & Seaton, J. B. (2019). Educational Audiology Handbook. Plural Publishing Inc.


 

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