Hearing care

Hearing loss in children and young people with a learning disability, autism or both  is ten times higher than in other children and young people. They are also very likely to have a condition called glue ear. Despite this many have not had a recent hearing check.

Hearing difficulties can cause or contribute to speech or language delays, difficulties learning and reading, and cause difficulties communicating with others. Without support, hearing difficulties can make a child’s learning difficulties more challenging, and impact on their educational progress and social development.

The sensory project is working to improve access to hearing checks for all children and young people with a learning disability and/or people who are autistic who go to a residential special school.

When we understand a child’s hearing difficulties everyone can work together to make hearing and listening as easy as possible for them and help them achieve their potential.

Tests for children and young people with a learning disability and/or who are autistic who do not go to a residential special school

Routine hearing tests are offered to new-born babies and children to identify any problems early on in their development.

Although serious hearing problems during childhood are rare, early testing ensures that any problems are picked up and managed as early as possible.

Your child’s hearing may also be checked as part of your child’s health and development appointments and at school when they are around four or five years old.

Your child’s hearing can also be checked at any other time if you have any concerns. Speak to a GP or health visitor if you’re worried about your child’s hearing.

Creative thinking wins the audiology team an Advancing Healthcare Award

The audiology team from the sensory project are celebrating winning an award for ‘Driving improvement, delivering results’ in the healthcare science category of the Advancing Healthcare Awards.

Coronavirus enabled the team to think innovatively about pathway redesigns and creative ways to deliver safe hearing checks to children and young people with a learning disability, autism or both.

The team recognised that going to hospital can be challenging during normal times for children who have complex needs and there are a number of barriers that impact children and their families. They trained parents to perform some of the checks at home, using a smartphone to look in the ear that enables remote review and a pressure test to rule out glue ear.

They produced manuals, social stories and ran virtual training sessions to support the parents to deliver ear checks for their children. More children tolerated testing at home by their parents compared to in a clinical setting. Parents enjoyed taking ownership of their child’s hearing checks in partnership with the audiologist.

Parents took ownership of delivering ear checks using innovative technology that enables remote review, in a COVID safe way. Parents were trained over teleconferencing software attend anywhere.

The model was co-produced to ensure the project met the needs of the parents, children and audiologists. Children with a learning disability, autism or both who were able to access ear checks in a safe and familiar environment.

The judges said ”the project was clear and innovative, using simple to use technology and a supportive and collaborative approach.

There is already demonstrable benefit to patients, despite this being a feasibility study. The project is powerful in terms of inclusivity and its potential to tackle inequalities within communities”.

Jo Young, Healthcare Science Adviser at Health Education England said: “Healthcare scientists make up just 5% of the NHS workforce, and it is sometimes difficult to understand their role in a given patient pathway. This project really highlights how scientists can add value and improve the patient experience through their understanding of technology, quality assurance and systems thinking.  The team have developed an elegant, simple solution that will benefit children, by reducing the stress of hospital visits and the current risks from COVID, providing diagnostics to support the best treatment options, enabling them to reach their full potential and reduce health inequalities.”

A parent who used the testing equipment said: “This just sort of, almost, has blown me away with the amounts of research and care and thought, that’s going into how the NHS can support children with special needs.”

More information

Families and carers

We have worked with SeeAbility, Contact and the National Deaf Children’s Society to produce a parents’ guide to hearing care for children with a learning disability, autism or both.  The guide explains why these health checks are important, how they are done, how to access them and how to prepare and support your child.

The Down’s Syndrome Association have a range of resources about childhood hearing loss and advice about hearing tests.

Useful organisations

National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS): NDCS offer free information and support to families with a deaf child via their Helpline, website and web forums.