Helping children's ears for 20 years
Had it not been for Statewide Infant Screening – Hearing (SWISH), one-year-old Archie may still not have been diagnosed with hearing loss, and the long-term impacts of this would have already begun to set in.
Diagnosed with bilateral profound mixed hearing loss at birth through the SWISH service, Archie was unable to hear properly out of both his ears. If left undetected, he would have suffered speech problems and missed key developmental milestones, significantly impacting his childhood.
SWISH was first introduced in NSW in 2000 as a two-year pilot project at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (SCH) in collaboration with the Royal Hospital for Women, to help identify babies born with significant bilateral hearing loss and intervene earlier.
Since then, the service has expanded monumentally, being adopted as a standardised test across the country (making Australia one of the first countries to do so) and achieving a screening rate of over 95 percent right across NSW.
For Archie’s mum, Sallie, the screening has made a world of difference.
“We are so grateful to have undertaken the screening and to have found out about Archie’s hearing loss straight away. This simple test meant we were able to follow the steps to get him the support needed,” Sallie said.
Through support and treatment from a multidisciplinary team across SCH, Hearing Australia and The Shepherd Centre in Wollongong, Archie has progressed from the initial management of his hearing loss through hearing aids to bilateral cochlear implants, which help to stimulate the auditory nerve.
“A year on, with the help of his audiologists and specialist intervention, Archie can now hear 90 or more percent of sounds, including distant sounds. The transformation has been amazing,” Sallie said.
“I just think it’s incredible what this bit of technology can do.”
Archie was one of more than 12,000 babies screened for hearing loss across the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District and SCH last year, with 124 babies diagnosed with hearing loss and offered early intervention by SCH Audiology.
“Like any diagnosis, early intervention is key for hearing loss. Research shows that with the right support measures and hearing tools in place, development and growth outcomes significantly improve for these kids”, said Belinda Reeve, Manager of SWISH at SCH.
All children identified through SWISH as needing further assessment at one of four audiology departments – SCH, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW), John Hunter Newcastle or Next Sense. The baby is also referred to Hearing Australia and Early Intervention for management of the hearing loss.
“Hearing loss is not visible, and without infant screening, can stay undetected for many years. By the time most families or medical professionals can see a problem, the impacts on a child’s development can be long-lasting,” Fiona Duncan, Head of Audiology at CHW, said.
“It can affect their ability to develop speech and language, age-appropriate social and emotional development, and can lead to behavioural difficulties and poor educational achievement.”
“But through SWISH and early identification, we can intervene sooner, helping to transform the outcomes for these children.”
SWISH aims to provide screening within one month of a child’s birth, a diagnosis within three months of birth, and early intervention strategies within six months.
“Research has shown us that if we follow the one, three, six rule, children have the best chance of developing in line with their normal hearing peers,” Belinda said.
“By doing this, longer term, speech and language milestones are reached at the same time, sometimes sooner, than normal hearing peers; educational achievements are reached at the same time; and for some, it increases feelings of inclusion because they are able to participate in conversations rather than only hearing portions of what is being said.”
“It really is life-changing for these children”, Fiona added.
This December marks the 20-year anniversary of SWISH, a milestone Belinda, Fiona and the SWISH team are exceptionally proud of.
“The SWISH service and multidisciplinary team surrounding the service is a partnership I believe has been designed to be the epitome of any health service,” Belinda said.
“Reaching 20 years of screening for hearing loss and providing early intervention as needed for better outcomes in life for these patients is something I’m very proud to be a part of.”
Congratulations to SWISH and the multidisciplinary teams surrounding the service for reaching this momentous milestone.