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Acadia marks double century for childhood hearing clinic

Published:  24 June 2020

She doesn’t realise it yet, but nine-week-old Acadia Conway has been gifted a much brighter future thanks to the Townsville University Hospital’s childhood hearing clinic (CHC), with the newborn also marking a milestone for the team as the 201st infant to access the service.

Acadia has been diagnosed with unilateral permanent hearing loss meaning that she doesn’t have hearing in one of her ears. Without early screening, unilateral hearing loss would usually go undetected until a child’s school years, when treatment can be much less effective. 

Acadia’s parents Chantelle Smallwood and Colby-lee Conway said Acadia’s diagnosis came as a big shock. 

“I didn’t realise how important that first hearing test was until we heard the nurse say there was a problem with Acadia’s screening result and we’d need to have further testing,” Chantelle said.

“We would have had no idea anything was wrong; Acadia responds to us, she reacts if there’s a big sound.

“You go into these tests thinking you’ll get an ‘OK’ so to hear something wasn’t right was a big shock.”

Chantelle said despite the news the family had felt incredibly supported during their short journey.

“We received support from the very first hearing test,” Chantelle said.

“We’ve been kept informed every step of the way and Acadia will be having her first paediatrician and ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist appointments at just nine-weeks old.

“We feel so much more confident having found out about her hearing loss as a newborn; it’s the best thing.

“Just knowing there’s a reason for any difficulties she might experience in daycare or school, and that there are things we can do to help her.

“We want her to have confidence about her diagnosis, and for that to happen she needs to see how confident we are in her.”

Acadia’s story is very familiar, with her initial ENT appointment also marking a milestone for the hospital’s CHC team who have now surpassed 200 children seen at the clinic.

Paediatric audiologist Dr Sree Aithal said having children able attend the childhood hearing clinic here in North Queensland was a real asset to the region.

“Once a child has been given a diagnosis of permanent hearing loss in either one ear or both ears, the childhood hearing clinic begins investigating the cause and associated conditions, and what options are available for the child going forward,” Sree said.

“The clinic was established in 2011 as a one-stop shop for patients to have all referrals to the necessary clinicians, whether that’s an audiologist, a paediatrician, an ENT specialist, a speech pathologist, or imaging; it makes it much easier on parents to just have one point of contact.

“We are one of only two childhood hearing clinics in Queensland, with children from Serena up to Thursday Island referred to our service.”

Sree said each diagnosis and investigation was unique, with around two to three children referred each month.

“Some children will be fitted with a hearing aid through Hearing Australia, some will be a candidate for a cochlear implant, some parents may just wish to learn sign language or have a combination of oral speech and sign language; it’s a personal choice,” Sree said.

“The most important thing is making a plan early in the child’s life.

“Research shows that to have the most profound impact, and to have a child progress developmentally in line with their peers who have full hearing, treatment needs to begin by six-months old.

“While this may seem incredibly young, it’s important to remember that so much of our language is learnt by listening to people speaking around us as infants, and then trying to copy by making babbling noises.

“We are incredibly proud that this service has now helped more than 200 children on their hearing journey and are excited to continue to help the children of North Queensland into the future.”

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