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Arnold School of Public Health


COMD’s USC Speech and Hearing Research Center marks 20 years of serving Columbia area with Preschool Speech-Language-Hearing Screening Program

March 27, 2017 | Erin Bluvas, bluvase@sc.edu 

For nearly 50 years, the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders’ (COMD) USC Speech and Hearing Research Center has provided quality diagnostic and treatment programs for individuals of all ages from the greater metropolitan area of Columbia, S.C. Through excellence in teaching, service, and research, the Center aims to meet the needs of this diverse community with regard to the nature, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of communication disorders and disabilities. On average, the Center logs 6,000 patient visits and approximately 225 patient outreach hours each year.

One of the Center’s critical outreach initiatives is the Preschool Speech-Language-Hearing Screening Program that it launched 20 years ago. Offered to children ages 2-5 in Richland, Lexington and surrounding counties, this program works with preschools/childcare centers and families to identify and address communication and hearing impairments that may impede a child’s ability to succeed during school and daily activities. 

During each spring and fall semester, faculty and graduate students from the Center visit up to seven schools/sites, screening as many as 35 children at each facility. “Understanding the magnitude of this problem is informing our decision-making with regard to future enhancements to our Center and the work we do on behalf of the citizens of South Carolina,” says Jason Wigand, COMD clinical assistant professor and director for the cochlear implant program.

The screening includes otoscopic examination, tympanometry, pure tone hearing screening, an oral mechanism examination, screening for speech disorders (voice, fluency, articulation disorders), and screening for various language impairments. Children who are Spanish-speaking and/or who have limited English proficiency work with the team’s certified bilingual speech-language pathologist.

In the past, the Center charged families a nominal fee of $5.00 to help cover the cost of the screening, but they are now able to offer the services free of charge. “We believe participation has at times been prohibitive for some due to cost and the inability of parents to follow through with recommendations for evaluation and treatment,” says Wigand. “Consequently, within the past two years, our department has received funding by generous donors, enabling us to offer the services to families free of charge.”

Most babies (approximately 98 percent) born in the United States are screened for hearing loss shortly after birth. However, there are several types of hearing loss (e.g., late onset, frequency-specific, progressive) that are not easily identified during these newborn screenings. Nearly 15 percent of children exhibit some type of hearing loss by the time they reach school age, and the degree of hearing loss does not have to be severe to have an impact on the ability of these students to access auditory lessons within the classroom. Early signs of these issues often begin to emerge during the preschool years.

Other communication problems, such as speech/language and/or literacy delays, also interfere with classroom activities and benefit from early detection and intervention during the preschool years.

“This program recognizes that communication disorders and hearing impairments are closely related to and may undermine the self-esteem and confidence of any child,” says Wigand. “Our outreach efforts have been very effective and well-received by the families. We have found the screening program to provide an excellent way for us to identify children who needed assistance with health-related problems, prompting us to refer them to ear, nose, throat specialists and other medical personnel. These problems very possibly may have been unrecognized and undiagnosed by the family or daycare facility.”

How It Works

Screenings at area daycares/preschools are scheduled in advance. Facilities receive information on the screening process, including release forms requiring parent permission for child participation. Once the speech, language, and hearing screenings are completed, the faculty members meet with the director of the facility to discuss results.

Faculty members maintain lists of speech-language pathologists, audiologists, and ENTs where they are able to refer children and families. These lists are distributed after a child fails a screening in the area of concern (e.g., a child who fails a hearing screening receives a list of ENTs and audiologists). Parents are also informed that children who are of school age (three and up) may be eligible for evaluation and treatment through the public schools. 

COMD team members who oversee the Preschool Speech-Language-Hearing Screen program include: Jamy Claire Archer, Gina Crosby-QuinatoaNicole Herrod-Burrows, Beth Hulvey,  Angela McLeod, and Jason Wigand.