Forty Sound Amplification Systems (SAS) units purchased by the KU Marcia Burgess Foundation were donated far and wide across urban, regional and remote areas to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children living with otitis media and other hearing impairments.

Otitis media is an acute inflammation and infection of the middle ear. Known also as “glue ear”, it is a major health issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children causing hearing loss and communication problems.

SAS are specialist devices that effectively amplify an educator’s voice from a microphone placed around the neck. Children can hear more clearly, follow oral instructions more easily, and become less distracted by outside noises.

Case study

Remote services in Far North Queensland are being supported by KU’s Inclusion Support Team in QLD to access and use SAS to support the inclusion of children with conductive hearing loss within their early childhood education services.

Injinoo Child Care Centre, located in Far-North Queensland’s Northern Peninsula Area, has developed a strong and genuine relationship with KU over many years and were open to sharing the myriad of difficulties children experience in relation to conductive hearing loss that impact children’s ability to hear educators and participate in daily activities. To support children and educators alike, KU supported the service with two SAS units for their Toddler and Kindy rooms to help address communication barriers.

The systems were introduced during a team meeting and professional conversations, which allowed for educators to explore the systems in a culturally safe environment, discuss the benefits and raise any concerns that may prohibit use, and adapt solutions to their needs.

The SAS units are now being used throughout the day to support children with routines, transitions, and group times so they can clearly hear what the educator is communicating and increase their participation within the program.

“We have been using the SAS for a while now. It was for a kid that couldn’t hear properly. The kid is now at school, but we still use it for the other kids. We use it at group times and when we do activities to make sure they hear us and the instructions. When we turn it on, the kids turn around and look at us straight away. They know that we are going to tell them something.” - Injinoo Educator

Distribution of SAS

KUMBF’s donation of SAS units are now being used in early education services in:

  • Queensland: Palm Island, Woorabinda, Pormpuraaw, Yarrabah, Aurukun, Doomadgee, Cherbourg, and Mornington Island
  • Torres Strait: Badu Island
  • New South Wales: Brewarrina, Lightning Ridge, Bourke, Dubbo, Ballina, Airds, Mt Druitt and Toronto
  • Victoria: Morwell and Lake Tyers

SAS units have also been donated to a Inclusion Agency equipment libraries in the Northern Territory and Tasmania.

“We love the system, the children are responding to it well and we use it anytime we are inside due to the amount of children with hearing difficulties. It certainly makes the educators voices clearer, and the children take more notice. We have up to 30 children in the room and it can get really noisy at times. We are using it for our graduation this year too, so our families will also be able to see it in action. Families have not been able to enter the centre for the past 1.5 years.” - Early Childhood Educator, NSW
“They are amazing 😊. We are still upskilling staff on their capacity, though the staff are learning new ways to utilise them each day.” - Early Childhood Educator, NSW

SAS preliminary findings

From an initial assessment in 2021 of early education services that received SAS units, 186 children identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. The majority (87.5%) were aged three to five years, and 12.5% birth to two years of age.

A total of 24% of these children had been diagnosed by a health professional ear, nose and throat outreach program or maternal child health program. Of these children,

  • 3% in NSW were diagnosed with acute otitis media
  • 4% in Vic were diagnosed with acute otitis media, and 4% otitis media with effusion
  • 7% in Qld were diagnosed with acute otitis media, and 7% otitis media with effusion

The findings also showed that an average of eight children per service were suspected to have undiagnosed otitis media or other related diagnoses with associated hearing impairments. Cleft lip and palate, Down syndrome and microcephaly were also identified as impacting hearing.

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