Hearing difficulties or issues with ear health can hinder development and like any health related concern, it’s imperative to diagnose and treat any issues as early as possible.
One organisation that aims to promote and encourage ear health is the Hear Our Heart Ear Bus.
The Ear Bus is the brainchild of the Dubbo and District Support Group for the Deaf and Hearing Impaired Inc. and has been on the road since 2017.
The bus has emerged as a solution to a gap in services.
“We were finding a lot of ear health problems in the rural areas so the bus came about to fill that gap,” says Hearing Test Co-coordinator Lauren Hawkins.
“The need for the Hear Our Heart Ear Bus was huge. We didn’t realise until we started going out into the schools just how much of a difference it actually made.”
The Ear Bus is based in Dubbo and visits a range of communities including Nyngan, Trangie, Warren, Gilgandra, Wellington and Yeoval and Narromine.
The aim is to provide health education, targeted hearing testing and free access to ear specialists.
Although the Ear Bus does occasionally screen older children, the focus is predominately on younger children.
“The first years of a child’s life are the crucial years for learning and behaviour so we aim for that age,” explained Lauren.
“Hearing is so important in those younger first years of life because a lot of speech and development happens, and if they can’t hear in the classroom then they can’t learn."
“So, fixing that hearing before they start school makes all the difference,” she said.
The Ear Bus contains a soundproof booth, which allows for regular hearing screening as well as ear health checks and clinical testing.
When testing the target age group of pre-primary to Year 6, audiologists are checking for conditions like otitis media.
Fun also plays a part in the Ear Bus’s work, with two puppets used to demonstrate correct sneezing techniques, and games are part of the screening and education processes.
The impact of hearing on a child’s education is one that audiologist Robyn Little knows all too well.
“I had quite a significant hearing loss due to middle ear as a child and I actually jumped two grades when my hearing cleared,” says Robyn.
Although Robyn will readily admit her personal experience is a more extreme example, she has also seen firsthand the benefits for other children who have had their ear health problems addressed.
“There is so much that I’m finding enjoyable and rewarding – being able to assist children and to detect hearing losses, or ear problems requiring management to prevent hearing losses.
“Also, educating teachers to be able to manage the children with the hearing losses and how to detect these children,” she says.
While the testing is an important part of the Ear Bus’s work, of equal importance is the education provided to schools.
“A lot of them (the students) actually know what the process is going to be before they come because of the education program that Hear our Hearts runs within the school,” said Robyn.
For Lauren, the undeniable impact of the testing and health education is what makes the work of the Ear Bus so important and rewarding.
“I find it very heartwarming that we’ve made a difference in those children’s lives,” she says.