What is an Audiologist and Does My Child Need One?
An audiologist is a paramedical professional concerned with the management of hearing and balance disorders. Audiologists must be licensed or registered for practice in all states. In addition, they are required to attend frequent continuing education events to stay abreast of current developments in the field of hearing and balance disorders.
What Does an Audiologist Do?
An audiologist works with individuals with hearing and balance disorders. Even though audiologists are trained to work with all age groups, some audiologists have a special interest in working with children. Audiologists have an important role to play in helping children who have a hearing loss or are at risk for a hearing loss. The tasks of an audiologist working with children include:
- Hearing screening – from newborn babies to school-aged children.
- Hearing assessment – with a battery of tests, most of which require specialized, high-tech equipment, of any child who has a hearing loss or is at risk to have one.
- Development of a comprehensive auditory rehabilitation plan – including hearing aid fitting or determination of candidacy for a cochlear implant, hearing and speech training, modification of the environment for optimal listening, and help with the psychological effects of hearing loss. For those children who are not candidates for hearing aids, or those with hearing aids who need additional help hearing in difficult listening environments, the audiologist will recommend and fit other assistive listening devices.
- Parent counseling – providing information and support to children with hearing loss and their parents.
- Referral and teamwork – working and coordinating with any person involved with the child’s hearing (for example: otolaryngologists, speech-language pathologists, cochlear implant teams, teachers, and remedial therapists).
- In-service training of teaching personnel in schools – provided for any person working with a child with hearing loss.
- Assessment of balance disorders in children – this is a sub-specialty field, and these tests require additional equipment to perform.
Does My Child Need an Audiologist?
It is safe to assume that every child will need to see an audiologist at least twice before he reaches primary school age. Once as a newborn, for neonatal hearing screen with oto-acoustic emission testing, and again during the preschool stage to ensure that his hearing is optimal for learning academic skills.
Certain factors may place a child at higher risk to have a hearing disorder. The hearing of any child who has any of the following in his case history should be carefully monitored:
- Parents who express concern about their child’s hearing;
- Family history of hearing loss in childhood;
- The presence of a syndrome (for example: Treacher Collins syndrome) or illness (for example: meningitis or mumps) that is usually associated with hearing loss;
- Infections in the womb before the baby was born, like rubella or toxoplasmosis;
- Conditions during the newborn period that required extended stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, ventilation, or jaundice that required a blood transfusion;
- Head trauma; and
- Persistent middle-ear infection for at least three months.
How Do I Choose the Right Audiologist?
Not all audiologists are equipped to work with children. When making an appointment to take your child for a hearing assessment, make sure that the audiologist is equipped to do pediatric audiology. Better yet, ask around in your support network (your family physician or clinic staff) for the contact details of an audiologist in your area who has a special interest in working with children.
Hearing ability provides the foundation for language learning; and delayed language development can have far-reaching effects on a child’s social, emotional, and academic development. A hearing assessment can provide some peace of mind, as well as the starting point for the right intervention for children with hearing loss.