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University of Iowa News Release

June 16, 2004

UI Speech And Hearing Experts Visit China

Language differences proved no barrier for University of Iowa experts in speech and hearing who traveled to China in May to help assess children for hearing problems.

Three UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty members who have basic knowledge of Chinese language and culture, and one Chinese-born UI doctoral student in audiology who speaks Mandarin Chinese fluently, helped children with hearing impairments at an orphanage in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province.

The orphanage had identified several children who likely were hearing impaired, and there were many babies who never had hearing tests, said Linda Louko, Ph.D., UI associate professor (clinical) of speech pathology and audiology and clinic director of the UI Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Clinic.

The UI group took materials to evaluate the children -- similar to free assessments offered regularly by the clinic for Iowans.

"Unless children are assessed early -- when they are babies -- they may get hearing aids too late to develop language skills," Louko said.

The group tested nearly 60 children and found some with hearing loss. Several of those children were treated for ear infections, while four were given hearing aids that had been donated by companies. Other children had microtia, a congenital condition in which the outer ear does not fully develop.

Louko said the children at the orphanage tended to have more problems than typically found in the general population. "Many of these children are abandoned at the orphanage because of their hearing problems or disfigurements," she said.

The experts tested babies using a special device called an otoacoustic emission test instrument. Babies cannot take the typical hearing test during which you raise your hand to indicate that you have heard a beep. The device uses feedback to determine whether sounds sent to the cochlea (the organ of hearing) are processed. It even can be used on a sleeping baby.

The group had professional reasons for going, but there also was a personal connection. Louko is one of three faculty members in her department who have adopted children from China. "We wanted to give back somehow," she said.

Carolyn Brown, Ph.D., UI associate professor of speech pathology and audiology, who was unable to go on the trip but also has a child adopted from China, suggested the possibility of helping children in Chinese orphanages who are hearing impaired. The orphanage was the one where Brown had adopted her child.

It was the first trip of this kind made by UI speech pathology and audiology faculty members. Other international UI outreach trips have helped communities where conditions such as cleft lip and palate are more prevalent than in the United States.

"We'd like to make this an annual project," Louko said.

In addition to Louko, UI experts making the trip included Ruth Bentler, Ph.D., professor of speech pathology and audiology; Diane Niebuhr, associate professor (clinical) of speech pathology and audiology; and Shuman He, doctoral student in audiology.

Shuman He helped interpret for the three UI professors and the young Chinese doctor who worked at the orphanage. "She helped us teach the doctor about the hearing aids and how to provide follow-up, such as replacing batteries," Louko said.

Local students from the fifth- and sixth-grades at Hoover Elementary School and students from the UI Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology collected school supplies and other materials, which were taken to the orphanage.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5137 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACTS: Media: Becky Soglin, 319-335-6660, becky-soglin@uiowa.edu; Program: Linda Louko, linda-louko@uiowa.edu

PHOTOS: A selection of photos (listed below, with cutlines) is available by e-mail. Please include the photo identification number in your request.

IMG 0725: A Chinese foster mom and her foster child share a playful moment during a hearing assessment with Linda Louko, UI associate professor of speech pathology and audiology.

IMG 0114 A sleeping baby gets a hearing test with a specialized device that uses otoacoustic emissions.

IMG 0119: Ruth Bentler, UI professor of speech pathology and audiology, playfully demonstrates on a puppet how to use an otoacoustic emission device to measure hearing in babies.

IMG 0122: Shuman He, UI doctoral student in audiology, looks on as an otoacoustic emission device is used to test a sleeping baby's hearing.

IMG 0126 A foster mother holds a Chinese baby during a hearing test that can be done even while a child is sleeping.

IMG 0136 Diane Niebuhr, UI associate professor of speech pathology and audiology, tests a child's hearing at an orphanage in China.