160 mums at Government House who have recently given birth at the Royal Women’s Hospital, and their babies. Photo: Jason South
Tenille Weir believed her young son simply wasn’t paying attention when he didn’t respond if she called to him.
Hamish, now seven, had been screened for hearing loss at birth and his results were fine so she never suspected a problem with his ears.
Children are screened as newborns and then after that there is nothing.
Only when a teacher at his Blue Mountains primary school raised concerns about his hearing did she make an appointment with a specialist who discovered Hamish had sensorineural hearing loss, making it hard to distinguish sounds in a noisy environment.
Eight-month-old James Koops joins 160 mums at Government House who have recently given birth at the Royal Women’s Hospital. Photo: Jason South
Hamish, who was diagnosed when he was in year 1, is one of thousands of Australian children who start school with an undiagnosed hearing problem.
A consortium of disability advocates is pressuring the federal government to introduce mandatory hearing checks for schoolchildren as part of a national campaign ahead of the election.
Former prime minister John Howard, who was diagnosed with a hearing impairment when nine, will speak at the campaign launch in Sydney on Saturday.
The Break the Sound Barrier campaign will recommend hearing loss be added to the federal government’s list of national health priorities, which includes obesity, dementia and diabetes.
As well as recommending hearing checks for children, the campaign will also call for better screening for people aged over 50 and tax deductions for hearing aids, which can cost up to $12,000 and may not necessarily be covered under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
David Brady, chairman of the Deafness Forum of Australia, said hearing loss was often overlooked because it was an “invisible” disability – although it affects almost 4 million Australians.
“Children are screened as newborns and then after that, there is nothing,” he said.
“A significant proportion of them develop hearing loss before they start school. Once they get into a classroom, they are struggling. They become disruptive, they don’t pay attention, they come home with homework they don’t understand and it’s very challenging for teachers and parents.
“We screen children for vision problems. Why don’t we do the same for hearing?”
Mr Brady said hearing problems cost $11 billion in lost productivity each year but only about 5 per cent of people with hearing loss will be supported under the NDIS, to be rolled out from July.
“Most people will still have to pay for their hearing aids out of their own pocket,” he said.
“If they need a hearing aid to work, they should be tax-deductible. You’re allowed to claim the cost of a phone and a computer, why not a device that actually allows you to work?”
Since being fitted with his hearing aid, Hamish is thriving at school, with his mother praising the staff who picked up his hearing loss.
“He’s doing so much better now,” Mrs Weir said.
“I did worry about how much has he missed out on because he wasn’t diagnosed until year 1, but he’s really caught up and we have noticed such a big difference. He loves going to school now.”
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