High levels of hearing loss are linked with absenteeism for Aboriginal children in NT
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High levels of hearing loss are linked with absenteeism for Aboriginal children in NT

by Freya Lucas

November 20, 2019

High levels of hearing loss have been linked to absenteeism in Aboriginal children in their first years of primary school in the Northern Territory, with the Public Health Association of Australia saying children are missing out because of “high but largely preventable levels of hearing impairment”.


The findings are of interest to those in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector who seek to work collaboratively in community and with their primary school-based counterparts, to address issues of hearing loss in the years before school. 


During a world-first study investigating the association between hearing impairment (HI) and Year 1 school attendance in Aboriginal children in the NT, researchers found clear evidence that HI has a negative and independent impact on school attendance. 


Aboriginal children with any level of hearing impairment will miss school more than their peers with normal hearing, the study found. More than a third of children (36 per cent) surveyed had bilateral hearing loss, and more than half (55 per cent) had unilateral or bilateral hearing loss. 


The cause of HI in the vast majority of children is otitis media (middle-ear infection). 


The findings were shared late last month in the Public Health Association of Australia’s journal, the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health


A team of researchers led by Jiunn-Yih Su with the Centre for Child Development and Education, Menzies School of Health Research, Charles Darwin University, recommend better early detection for treatment and ensuring teaching staff are made aware and equipped to support students with hearing difficulties. 


“The silent way in which HI presents in young Aboriginal students can make it difficult to detect, especially for teachers who may be unfamiliar with the children,” Mr Su and his colleagues conclude. 


“This, together with the high prevalence of otitis media from the first months of life, supports regular surveillance of the infection and hearing for all Aboriginal children living in remote communities. This should be provided during early childhood, when they are entering pre-school, and/or their first year of compulsory full-time education.” 


To review the study, please see here

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