March 1, 2016

SOUND SCOUTS – A clinically validated hearing test for children. Presented in the form of a fun game delivered on a tablet or mobile phone.

Undiagnosed hearing problems in children are a huge problem globally. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in any year around 15% of children1 experience hearing loss of at least 16 decibels in at least one ear.

A child that struggles to hear will struggle to learn and that’s why the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children have their hearing tested at birth and at pre-school / school entry.

The problem is that too few children have their hearing tested around the time that they start school. Often children can be in school for years before someone thinks to check their hearing.

Sound Scouts is a new technology that can provide a solution. It’s an innovative app that’s able to test for hearing loss. This means that anyone with a tablet or mobile phone and access to the internet can test their child’s hearing. If a problem is detected the hearing test recommends an appropriate follow up care option. Sound Scouts is the result of five years of collaboration between media and game designers and the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL) the hearing research arm of the Australian government.

Professor Harvey Dillon from NAL said “Children need to hear to learn, but all too often undetected hearing problems cause children to fall behind during primary school until someone thinks to have the child’s hearing checked. By the time this happens, the child may not only be behind academically but may have come to deeply believe that he or she will never be able to keep up with the other children at school. “

Professor Dillon added “it would be much better if children suffering hearing loss could be diagnosed in preschool or at the start of kindergarten so they don’t have that first bad experience in school of one, two or three years of not coping”.

What’s been missing in from the hearing health-care system is a low-cost, easily administered, reliable test of hearing that can be widely applied to children around school entry so that no child has to go through years of school at a disadvantage to others because of unmanaged hearing loss.

Sound Scouts looks and feels like a game when it is played. However, it incorporates several advanced scientific principles that enable it to detect a range of hearing problems. These problems include conductive hearing loss arising from infections or other disorders in the middle ear, sensorineural hearing loss, auditory neuropathy and central auditory processing disorder (of which there are several varieties).

The game comprises three interleaved tests of hearing; two based on perceiving speech (one in noise and one in quiet), and one based on perceiving tones against a noise background. Each of these constantly adapts so that the child is always listening at the edge of his or hearing capability. Algorithms within the game check that the child is responding reliably, as well as measuring the child’s actual ability. The results from the three tests are combined to automatically display a test result as soon as the game is completed.

The narrative content of the game is pitched at children aged 4 years to 12 years. However, the hearing test is valid for any person over the age of 4 years.

Sound Scouts founder Carolyn Mee said “We know from Australian data that the most common age for children being fitted with hearing aids is between 5 and 8.2 This is in a country where we have universal hearing tests for newborn babies. Even though all children are tested at birth hearing loss can develop at any time. We find that the hearing problem only gets picked up when children start to do badly at school and speech is impacted. These kids are often put in the lowest reading group and they can be inattentive or disruptive in class. The children themselves assume they’re dumb and the impact on their self esteem is significant.”

While Sound Scouts is currently only available in Australia the company plans to launch the hearing test in the US and UK in late 2017.

Further Information:
Sound Scouts
National Acoustic Laboratories
World Health Organisation: Fact sheet on hearing

Demographic details of young Australians aged less than 26 years with a hearing impairment, who have been fitted with a hearing aid or cochlear implant at 31 December 2014. Hearing Australia
CDC’s Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III) 1988-1994