Sound Scout: A hearing test app that can shape a child’s future for the better

Back to blog9 months ago by Renee
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Animated picture of a dog in a room with two bags on the left wall, three torches on the back wall with two cameras hanging from separate hooks. On the table against the back wall is a walkie talkie next to one white down and a green towel. On the floor next to the table is a green yoga mat. The picture is taken from the hearing test app Sound Scout.
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Hearing well can be the difference between a muted world or one that’s full of possibility and opportunity.

We know that the first years of a child’s school life are the most important as they build vital learning and behavioural skills. Unfortunately, many children don’t have their hearing problems picked up until much later in their schooling when learning difficulties have already arisen.

If children struggle to hear, they also struggle to learn.

Entrepreneur Carolyn Mee created her application Sound Scouts precisely to address this problem – a gap in the screening of children’s hearing as they progress through the early years.

“In many cases it is not until children start school that a problem with their hearing is detected. And hearing issues can be easily overlooked if the signs aren’t obvious,” Carolyn said.

With hearing issues being a common cause of speech and learning problems, it is important for all children to have their hearing checked to ensure they are able to learn and socialise. If children struggle to hear, they also struggle to learn.

Carolyn explains, “Data from Australian Hearing indicates that for every child found to have hearing loss at birth, another two children are identified with hearing loss in the first three years of school. These children are identified at this time because they often fall behind academically.”

“The first thing that is recommended is a hearing check. From my experience, and from talking to parents, the first roadblock to getting this check done is accessibility.”

An app that detects hearing problems

So Carolyn set out to fix this problem by creating Sound Scouts – an app which looks and feels like a game however, incorporates advanced scientific principles which can detect a range of hearing problems. It is quick, easy and entertaining for children, and can be played on an iPad or similar tablet device.

Sound Scouts could be described as a game changer. It tests the hearing of children especially around the time they start school. The game follows the story of Patch a bionic-eared dog who works in the national park. One day one of the rangers goes missing and Patch has to help find her by using her robotic ears to solve a series of hearing challenges.

Carolyn has been developing the concept for five years alongside programmer Cuauh Moreno and Dr Harvey Dillon from the National Acoustic Laboratories (NAL). NAL is a world leader in the research of hearing assessment, hearing loss prevention and hearing rehabilitation. The research that NAL conducts is critical to helping people lead more fulfilling and productive lives.

What’s unique is that the science behind the test is embedded in a game that encourages and enables a valid hearing check for children as young as four years and nine months.

Sound Scouts offers an affordable solution

A child’s self-esteem, learning outcomes and behaviours can be substantially affected if hearing loss is not detected early. Screening the hearing of children as they enter school via traditional methods is an expensive process that rarely occurs due to the cost. Sound Scouts offers an affordable solution that puts parents firmly back in control of their child’s hearing and provides peace of mind.

“The phrase is “look, listen and learn”, it’s not just “look and learn”. As a society we’re only paying attention to one half of that equation because, for some reason, the hearing part has lost value,” Carolyn said.

“That’s why we developed Sound Scouts, because it can be played at your own convenience and provides parents with a guide of what action they need to take based on their child’s hearing assessment.”

“The assessment provides a report and whenever possible, a clear referral pathway. If a potential issue is detected the child may be referred to a GP or an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT). However, a child who exhibits permanent hearing damage would be referred to Australian Hearing who provide free government subsidised hearing aids,” she said.

Expanding our reach

A medical devices fund grant from NSW Health has enabled Sound Scouts to continue to develop the product, translate the game into different languages, market the app and begin to explore international opportunities.

They also received funding and support from the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Remarkable program, which Carolyn says has provided invaluable access to fantastic advisors and mentors, assistance with funding and masterclasses.

“Remarkable has given us an incredible network of people who understand the challenges we’re facing from a business perspective,” Carolyn said.

In its future plans the team would like to work closely with Indigenous health care providers to ensure Sound Scouts is a tool that can be utilised in remote communities where access to health care services is limited. Indigenous children have been identified as having some of the worst hearing health in the world and we feel confident that Sound Scouts can contribute to improving this situation.

With kids loving the gamification of the app and parents praising the accuracy of the results – it’s easy to see why demand for Sound Scouts is mounting and it’s only a matter of time before this app makes a huge social impact – globally!