Project launched to screen students for early hearing loss

Infants B students at schools across the island will be screened for early hearing loss and be given any needed treatment through the Rotary Club of Barbados West’s Ellen Steinbok Hearing Screening Project.

The project, which is running in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Scotiabank, and the Barbados Community College, has been embraced by Minister of Education, Technological and Vocational Training, Kay McConney who underscored the importance of screening children early for hearing loss and other challenges that can affect their learning experience.

“The importance is not simply knowing that hearing loss exists; it’s getting a proper diagnosis and then allowing us to intervene and to provide the support, provide the aids, and also to give them the skills that will help them navigate not just learning but life in general,” she said at the official launch of the project.

“Sounds and words help us to understand the world around us, and when a child with hearing loss misses out on sound – the sounds of others as well as the sounds of themselves – it plays with their confidence, it interrupts their education, and it makes sure that their outcomes are not as good as they can be.”

Joseph Steinbok, son of the late Ellen Steinbok after whom the project is named, said his mother’s experience growing up in Barbados with a hearing disability from early childhood, not having her challenges dealt with in any meaningful way, fuelled his family’s belief that such a project was desperately needed.

“Eventually she lost her hearing completely. In the days when our mother was growing up in Barbados, these types of disabilities were not detected or treated. As a result, she struggled at school as she could not hear what her teachers were saying,” he said.

“All of my siblings have embraced and contributed to this worthwhile and much needed hearing project. We believe that there is no more fitting a tribute to our mother, Ellen Steinbok, than to ensure that as many children as possible with hearing deficiencies can be identified early and assisted. In this way, they may be able to avoid the challenges she faced in her life and can go on to achieve their full potential.”

The project started last Wednesday at the West Terrace Primary School, and will continue until all schools across the island are completed.

President of Rotary Club of Barbados West, Rene Butcher, said at their installation ceremony in June/July 2021, they had made a promise to Barbados to screen six to seven-year-olds.

“So far, from the 45 tests we have completed to date; we have identified two students who require further interventions. We expect to uncover quite a few more,” he said, adding that his club stood committed to meeting the cost of treatment “where necessary, for every child we uncover”. Audiologist at Barbados Speech and Hearing Centre, Dr Mariella Stabler assured that the hearing examination will be a quick, easy, safe, sanitary, and non-invasive process that will cause no form of discomfort.

“The student simply wears the headphones and is told to raise their hand when they hear a series of pulsed tones presented at selected frequencies. Once the test is done the student returns to their classroom with no residual effects from the testing,” she said.

“For a student to pass the test they have to hear all the sounds presented at a specific loudness. If they fail, an otoscopic examination [a visual inspection of the ear canal and ear drum] will be carried out to discover if impacted cerumen [ear wax] is blocking either ear canal and if the eardrum is within normal limits in terms of appearance. The student will then be referred to our office for removal of cerumen and/or a more in-depth hearing evaluation,” Dr Stabler further explained.

Parents of primary school students are asked to be on the lookout for permission slips over the next few weeks, which they will need to sign in order for their children to have the exam. (SB)

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