School-aged children will benefit from an Australian-developed app that delivers a hearing test, which aims to detect hearing problems early.
The federal government is funding a national $4 million rollout for the innovative and cost-effective approach, that offers free tests for kids.
Tests will be conducted online using Sound Scouts, a tablet-based game that detects hearing issues.
Sound Scouts, which won an innovation award in 2017, includes tests of speech in quiet, speech in noise and tones in noise, all embedded in game designed to maintain attention.
The minister responsible for hearing services policy, Ken Wyatt, and the minister for human services and digital transformation, Michael Keenan, announced the move this month.
Mr Wyatt says that last year, 600 five to seven-year-olds received hearing aids for the first time, and the government is determined to ensure children are helped earlier.
“The Sound Scouts program is engaging and fun, but with some serious benefits,” he said.
“A recent study found that up to 1.3 million Australians are living with hearing conditions that could have been prevented.
“We know that delays in recognising and treating hearing loss in children’s first few years of school can be profound and long lasting, undermining their future prospects.”
A Macquarie University study analysed the system, and found that it delivered a $10 return in benefits for children and the community, for every $1 spent on the app.
“Children with hearing problems may be unable to hear their teacher or understand their friends talking to them in a noisy classroom,” Mr Keenan said.
“They are more likely to struggle to meet learning milestones or develop social skills and can quickly fall behind their peers.
“Once identified through the Sound Scouts system, these young children can be referred for further testing and appropriate support and have the best chance of reaching their full potential.”
The program will start in 2019 and will run for up to five years, ensuring that up to 600,000 Australian children aged 4-17 have their hearing checked using the Sound Scout test.
Sound Scouts is the only tool of its kind available in Australia validated by the National Acoustic Laboratories, the research arm of Australian Hearing.