There is a room full of toys in the basement of SGH Block 3. Nearby, there is also a cluster of soundproof rooms with speakers. No, they are not studios for recording music, and the toys are meant for our young patients. This is the Centre for Hearing and Ear Implants located within the Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) Centre where our audiologists and auditory-verbal therapists (AVTs) team up to help children and adults with hearing loss.
“Some people wonder if I am doing something related to audio systems. There were also job hunters who sent me job offers meant for Radiologists” shares Ong Chun Suan, Senior Audiologist. “Audiologists actually help to provide hearing assessment and intervention for different age groups. We not only deal with hearing devices, but we also counsel patients and help them adapt to daily life with their hearing devices.”
A new patient had been keeping away from his friends, especially for karaoke sessions, as he couldn’t hear himself. Chun Suan was impressed when he burst out into a song after she fitted him with a pair of hearing aids. “He was so excited at the thought of being able to join his friends for singing sessions again!”
Senior AVT Olivia Wee shares a similar experience, “The oldest patient I’m seeing now is 80 years old and after receiving a cochlear implant, he continues to enjoy good quality of life, being able to listen to his favourite ABBA music again!”
After a patient’s cochlear implant surgery, an audiologist will programme a sound processor that sends electrical signals into the cochlea and to the hearing nerve, which in turn sends the signals to the brain which interprets the signals as sound. An AVT then teaches the patient how to listen with their ‘new ear’ and make sense of the sounds for understanding spoken language.
As an AVT, Olivia also partners closely with parents of children with hearing loss. She teaches them techniques and strategies so they can help their children develop listening, speech, language, cognitive and communication skills through the aid of technology. “These children have to learn to listen with their hearing technology. We play, sing, read and do art and craft to engage them in listening and speaking meaningfully and clearly,” she adds.
Olivia and Chun Suan with Atif (using hearing aids) and his mother. Each small step forward is the result of much commitment and sacrifices put in by the family.
Olivia shares that more than 30 years ago, when hearing technology was primitive compared to now, pioneers in the AVT field believed that even the most profoundly deaf children can learn to listen, develop spoken language, go to mainstream schools and be contributing members of society.
She recalls an encounter with a family in the earlier years of her career, “I found the parents looking lost in the corridor outside the therapy rooms. I approached them and they shared how overjoyed they were when their first-born arrived. They described their baby girl as happy but very quiet and they grew anxious when her speech did not develop. Having just received the result of the hearing test, they were devastated that their 2-year-old was diagnosed with severe-profound hearing loss and they feared for her future.”
That was the start of Olivia’s journey with the family. The little girl was fitted with a pair of hearing aids and later had a cochlear implant. With early intervention and perseverance, she excelled in mainstream education. She is now pursuing her ‘A’ levels, living independently at an overseas boarding school.
Experiences like these drive Chun Suan and Olivia to work passionately in helping our patients overcome their hearing disabilities. With advancing hearing technology, there is hope for our patients to lead fulfilling lives.
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