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Fight for funding

Last updated 05:00 10/01/2014
Shaun Woods
NO HELP: Shaun Woods, 11, has trouble in class but can’t access funding for the vital technology he needs to hear.

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Children struggling with auditory processing disorder can not access funding for crucial hearing equipment unless they are failing at school. Reporter Danielle Street finds out why experts say the system is letting these kids down.

Shaun Woods starts intermediate school this year. It won't be easy. He will have trouble listening to the teacher and following instructions.

The 11-year-old lives with auditory processing disorder (APD), a hearing impairment that affects an estimated one in 20 children.

People with the disorder have normal hearing but the sounds are jumbled by the brain.

Shaun was diagnosed with a genetically inherited sensory deafness in year 2 but even after he received hearing aids his parents found he was still struggling.

"What was happening in the classroom, or even at home, is that we would say a lot of things and he just wouldn't do them," his mother Sue says.

"We were frustrated because we thought he wasn't following instructions, but he actually wasn't able to process.

"It was too much information at once."

To help remedy the problem Shaun's hearing aids can be fitted with an FM receiver that picks up sound from a microphone worn around the teacher's neck.

But the Ministry of Education will not fund the technology he needs.

Shaun is meeting the National Standards in the classroom so he does not meet the criteria for help.

"We had to take him out of school to get him the tuition to keep him at that standard," Mrs Woods says.

The family is looking at paying more than $7000 to have Shaun fitted with the equipment he needs to keep up in the classroom.

Even if the ministry does fund a student with auditory processing disorder the technology can only be used during school hours.

Chief executive of the Parnell-based National Foundation for the Deaf Louise Carroll says the criteria are letting vulnerable children down.

"We want to see the Ministry of Health pick up for these kids. It shouldn't sit with the Ministry of Education at all.

"This is a clinical issue and it should be based on clinical need, not educational failure."

Audiologist Bill Keith says it is an "anomaly" the Ministry of Education is involved with providing a medical treatment.

Dr Keith is the director of SoundSkills clinic in Greenlane and specialises in APD.

"It is a gross inequity that children with other types of deafness receive hearing aids to help them hear, or cochlear implants, but the majority of children with APD do not."

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He has seen cases where children have been homeschooled or given extra tuition because they are so overwhelmed by the noise in the classroom.

"Awareness of APD is improving as people come to realise that it may be the underlying cause of a child's learning disability.

"Many cases would have been labelled dyslexia," he says.

Last year the ministries of health and education joined to commission a research group to independently research auditory processing disorder.

Rawiri Brell from the Ministry of Education says the review will identify best practice and make recommendations for the provision of hearing devices.

"The feedback on the review was much greater than anticipated and resulted in a longer timeframe for the report," Mr Brell says.

The report is expected in late February and will be published after approval.

It will be used as a basis to develop next steps for both agencies, Mr Brell says.

- Central Leader

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