Why We Need Universal Hearing Screenings in Our Schools

We all have memories of our school-aged days of nurse’s offices, large headphones, and raising our hand corresponding with the beep, but these tests were not just a comical excuse to get out of class, they were critically important. With every 3 out of 1000 children being born with detectable hearing loss, these tests are becoming more and more consequential for the health and future of students. Being linked to poor academic performance, stifled social skills, and even depression, one can understand the importance of ensuring children are tested regularly for hearing loss. A new study by Dr. Lisa Fox-Thomas, PhD, explores the failures and successes of school-wide hearing tests, finding that some students with fluctuating or acquired hearing loss may be missed in schools that don’t test regularly and recommending what schools can do to make sure any student with hearing loss does not go unnoticed.

How Some Schools Are Failing Their Students

Dr. Fox-Thomas’ study had concluded that some schools were not following recommended guidelines set forth by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and the American Academy of Audiology, opting to only screen children prior to entering kindergarten instead of throughout multiple grades. This greatly increases the risk of students with fluctuating or acquired hearing loss to go untested during their later school years, especially during critical moments in their social and academic development.
Unfortunately, failing to test throughout multiple grades was not the only problem schools were facing when treating hearing loss. Fox-Thomas’ 2019 study had also found that state guidelines varied greatly when it came to hearing test procedures, with some states excelling with comprehensive testing, while other states used different procedures. This lack of universal guidelines increases the risk of some students receiving treatment while others are missed.

Dr. Fox-Thomas’ Conclusions

With 14.9% of children between the ages of 6 and 19 having hearing loss in one or both ears, having a universal screening process that all schools can follow will greatly benefit our youngest students. Research indicates that children with unilateral hearing loss are 25-35% more likely to fail at least one grade level, and can significantly increase the chance of social isolation and depression.
Knowing these statistics, Dr. Fox-Thomas’ research concludes “that a school-wide hearing screening is beneficial in identifying more children with potential hearing loss as well as outer and middle ear problems”, though the study stops short of outlining exactly what that would look like, stating that “Although screening procedures affected outcomes, more research should be done before universal criteria can be recommended.” The importance of school-wide hearing tests is compounded further, as Fox-Thomas also found that “although diagnostic testing after a screening is recommended, this study found that parents are not likely to follow up even when testing is offered at no charge.”, further cementing the need for schools to take on the responsibility of evaluating children’s hearing loss. With these recommendations, schools can become more comprehensive in their screenings while raising the standards universally across the nation.


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