ASHA and its members advocate for and serve the needs of approximately 28 million Americans who have hearing loss. Many of these are children who receive audiology services in school from educational audiologists. These professionals typically have extensive experience with pediatric populations and comprehensive knowledge of the effects that hearing loss and (central) auditory processing disorders can have on communication, academic performance, and psychosocial development.
Children with hearing loss and/or auditory processing disorders may consider themselves academic failures, isolated, and/or singled out. School personnel often witness the students' frustration, fatigue, and anger, but do not always recognize that the behaviors are a result of the child's hearing loss and/or auditory processing disorder.
Educational audiology is the practice of audiology that focuses on supporting students with hearing difficulties in an educational setting (EAA, May 2009). Educational audiology does not require a specific degree or certification (other than a PhD or AuD); much like pediatric audiology or industrial audiology, the term refers to a category of services related to a specific population and reflects what an audiologist does, rather than a specific curriculum or specialized study program. (Some states, however, require their own certification to work in schools.) An educational audiologist is distinctively trained and experienced in providing hearing and acoustic assistance for students in an educational environment (EAA, May 2009).
First and foremost, an educational audiologist focuses on the hearing, listening, and auditory processing deficits that can affect a child's academic success, communication abilities, and psychosocial well-being (EAA, September 2009).
Absent explicit licensure or certification requirements, what qualifies a professional as an educational audiologist? As with all specialized areas of audiology, educational audiologists are expected to meet and follow the professional guidelines and ethics described by ASHA, the American Academy of Audiology, and/or state licensing agencies (AAA, 2011; ASHA, 2010). However, the Educational Audiology Association (EAA) recommends professional practice standards that describe competent skills for audiologists working in educational settings. Each educational audiologist must take responsibility for acquiring the knowledge and skills to be proficient in an educational environment.
Specific knowledge and skills required for an educational audiologist are best described by EAA's School-Based Audiology Advocacy Series (September, 2009). An educational audiologist should:
- Be well-versed in federal and state legislation that relates to the hearing needs of students ages 0–21.
- Be familiar with regulations and policies of local jurisdictions and within the educational institution that is being served.
- Be proficient in collecting, evaluating, and interpreting information in relation to the effects of hearing loss and hearing difficulties on academic and psychosocial development of students. This proficiency includes making appropriate recommendations for program planning, classroom accommodations, and technology support, specifically knowledge and skills in the areas of amplification/FM, classroom acoustics, cochlear implants, auditory training, speechreading, and hearing conservation.
Roles and Responsibilities
Recommended guidelines for the roles and responsibilities of educational audiologists align with these skills (ASHA, 2002; EAA, May 2009). Educational audiologists are usually part of multidisciplinary professional team that works to meet the hearing needs of children and students ages 0–21. As a member of this team, an educational audiologist may take the role of case manager, consultant, and/or direct interventionist. Because of their unique training, they can offer valuable insight to the development of Individualized Education Plans and/or Individualized Family Service Plans, and develop recommendations for interpreters/translators, assist with transition planning, and make referrals to outside agencies or medical sites/physicians.
An educational audiologist's responsibilities can include diagnostic services to evaluate hearing and auditory processing and selection and fitting of amplification and hearing assistance technology. Audiologic assessments go beyond testing in the booth and can incorporate the measurement of classroom acoustics and evaluation of soundfield amplification systems in the classroom. This category also may include administration of measurement protocols that document students' progress in relation to intervention programs.
Educational audiologists also may provide direct intervention services. Their expertise in audiologic rehabilitation (AR), for example, makes them effective providers of AR services, especially when paired with speech-language pathologists and classroom teachers. Other direct services may include in-service training for students, their parents, and school personnel on a variety of subjects, including care and use of amplification devices, strategies to improve communication, explanation of hearing loss, and hearing loss prevention.
Other services may include calibration and maintenance of audiologic equipment, counseling students and parents about hearing loss and its psychosocial effects, overseeing or contributing to an early hearing detection and intervention program, and serving as a resource on educational laws that affect students with hearing needs.
The Need for Educational Audiologists
In this time of educational reform and budget constraints, it is imperative that all school programs are justified and have proven, positive effects on students' academic performance. There is little question about the effects of hearing difficulties on the development of speech, language, and intellectual skills. Educational audiology services, therefore, are vital to academic success for students with hearing deficits.
EAA has outlined 16 of the most relevant reasons for schools to have an educational audiologist (EAA, 2011):
- Perform comprehensive, educationally relevant hearing evaluations and make recommendations to enhance communication access and hearing.
- Provide training about hearing, hearing loss, and other auditory disorders for school personnel, students, and parents to facilitate a better understanding of the impact of auditory impairments on language, learning, literacy, and social development.
- Evaluate and make recommendations for the use of hearing aids, cochlear implants, bone-anchored solutions, and classroom and other hearing assistive technology.
- Ensure the proper fit and functioning of hearing aids, cochlear implants, bone-anchored solutions, and hearing assistive technology use to access
- Explain audiological assessment results to school personnel.
- Collaborate with schools, parents, teachers, support personnel, and relevant community agencies and professionals to ensure delivery of appropriate services.
- Measure classroom noise, evaluate acoustics, and make recommendations for improving classroom listening environment.
- Assist in program placement decisions and make specific recommendations to address listening and communication needs.
- Make appropriate medical, educational, and community referrals.
- Coordinate hearing and screening programs for preschool and school-aged students, ensuring professional standards are followed and screening personnel are appropriately trained.
- Facilitate programs for speechreading, listening, auditory training, communication strategies, and the use and care of amplification devices (including hearing aids, cochlear implants, and hearing assistive technology).
- Manage the use and calibration of audiometric equipment.
- Administer relevant assessments to measure (central) auditory processing function and make appropriate educational recommendations.
- Make appropriate recommendations for daily living assistive technology (radio, telephone, messaging, alerting, and convenience) for students with hearing and listening problems.
- Collaborate with students, teachers, and parents to facilitate a greater understanding of the impact of noise exposure and hearing loss prevention.
- Provide community leadership and collaborate with community agencies to increase awareness of hearing and hearing loss and to ensure that all children and youth with hearing loss are promptly identified, evaluated, and given resources and appropriate intervention services.
The professional knowledge of an educational audiologist is crucial when addressing the hearing and listening needs of students. However, it is important to be aware that audiologists working within an educational setting may serve a large population. For example, EAA (May 2009) and ASHA (2002) recommend a ratio of 10,000 students to be served by one full-time educational audiologist within a local education agency. Because of this large caseload, audiologists need to develop strong collaborative systems with speech-language pathologists, teachers of individuals with hearing loss, and other related professionals to deliver quality services and meet the educational needs of students with various hearing deficits.