Main Article Content
High prevalence of otitis media (OM) and hearing impairment (HI) in Aboriginal children in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT) is well documented. HI may be associated with poorer outcomes in early childhood development, school attendance and academic achievement. However, these associations have not been investigated in this population.
Objectives and Approach
Retrospective cohort studies were conducted to investigate the association between HI and three education-related outcomes in Aboriginal children living in remote NT communities. The explanatory variable for all studies was audiometrically determined hearing levels. The outcome measures were Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) results, representing developmental outcomes at around age 5 years; Year 1 school attendance rates; and, National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results for Year 3 for academic achievement. Relevant confounding variables from available linked datasets were controlled for in the statistical analyses.
Compared with normal hearing children, after adjustment for selected confounding factors, children with HI had higher risk for being developmentally vulnerable in two or more of the five AEDC domains (adjusted odds ratio 1.69); lower AEDC domain score sum (-1.60~-2.40); scoring lower in Numeracy (by 15.2 points), Writing (by 13.4-15.6 points) and Spelling (by 5.0 points) domains of NAPLAN; and having lower attendance rates (attending 4.0-5.6 fewer days in Year 1). Severer HI categories generally yielded greater effect sizes. Notably, across the studies, some confounding variables included in the analysis yielded substantially greater effect sizes.
Conclusion / Implications
OM-related HI has a negative impact on early childhood development, Year 1 school attendance and academic achievement in Year 3 in Aboriginal children living in remote NT communities. To improve the developmental and educational outcomes it is important to detect HI at an early age and provide effective educational support, in addition to clinical and audiometric management.
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