If your child gets a screening at school to check his or her hearing and is referred to a doctor or audiologist for further testing, don’t panic. Pediatric audiologist Allison Ziska Dirham, AUD, says this is not a full diagnostic test. It’s just a basic health screening.
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“We have parents come in and they’re losing sleep from worry,” she says. “But these screenings don’t tell us that your child definitely has a hearing loss. They just tell us that the child needs more testing.”
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Incidental problems with screenings
Depending on your state health or education department, the hearing tests are usually administered to students in grades K, 1, 3, 5 , 9 and sometimes grade 7.
A school nurse, speech language pathologist or a visiting audiologist usually does school screenings. However, the screening conditions are not always ideal. For example, tests sometimes take place in a gymnasium. Depending upon where children take the tests, poor acoustics, reverberation and ambient noise can affect results.
Secondly, the child may have an ear infection or cold or upper respiratory tract infection that day, which can impair hearing, Dr. Ziska Dirham says. The fit of the over-the-ears headphones or the attention span of the child also sometimes affect the screenings.
“So, just because they didn’t pass on that screening doesn’t mean that they don’t have normal hearing,” Dr. Ziska Dirham explains. “However, finding that out is critical, and that’s why we always recommend that parents take their child for a diagnostic follow-up test if school professionals recommend it.”
The complete diagnostic hearing test
If your child receives a referral notice, you will then need to take him or her to a hospital or medical center for a full, standard diagnostic hearing exam. This will test your child’s hearing across many different frequencies and make sure that hearing is within a normal range.
Typically, the child wears headphones during the test. The examiner plays a tone or sound, and the child identifies which side he or she hears the sound.
Early detection is important
Dr. Ziska Dirham adds that it is possible for a child to have some hearing loss that you may not observe at home. The loss could be in one ear, for example, so the child still appears to hear normally. However, a hearing impairment can put a child at a disadvantage in the more demanding listening environment of the classroom because of noise, reverberation and distance from the speaker or sound source.
“Hearing loss is something that we want to identify immediately to help children perform at their best in the classroom,” she says.
How to help your child prepare
The following are simple things you can do to help children prepare for a hearing health screening:
- Talk to them about what the test will involve.
- Reinforce that they need to pay attention and listen to the examiner’s instructions closely.
- Have them try on a pair of headphones so they are comfortable with them.
- If they use ear buds or headphones at all, remind them to keep the volume at a safe level.
- Protect their hearing health, especially when they are close to loud noises such as lawn equipment, vehicles or other machinery.