NIU Audiology Professor King Chung wants children and adults to enjoy having their hearing tested, and she now has funding from the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program to do just that.
Chung received the Fulbright Scholar Award to provide hearing services, community outreach and education as well as to conduct research in Brazil. She will spend two weeks providing hearing services in two Amazon villages in Rondônia. Then she’ll spend about 15 weeks teaching and conducting research at the University of São Paulo, Bauru; Federal University at Rio Grande do Norte at Natal and Federal University at Paraíba in João Pessoa.
Chung and her collaborators at the Brazilian universities will examine if the automatic hearing testing program she developed for iPads can be used to test children and adults’ hearing sensitivity in rural areas in Brazil. The adult program allows people to self-test and reports their estimated hearing sensitivity so that they can be better counseled if they have hearing problems. The results also give audiologists a ballpark impression of the appropriate steps for further intervention.
The children’s program is unique in that it lets kids play games on iPads – pointing to whichever animal is making a sound. This simplifies testing and allows children to be tested at a younger age with more accuracy.
Testing children through conventional methods is challenging. In existing audiometry, people being tested are instructed to raise their hands or press buttons whenever they hear test tones. However, testing children who are 3 or 4 years old requires audiologists to use “conditioned play audiometry,” in which children are conditioned to perform a task (such as putting a peg on a board) whenever they hear the test tones. In addition to conducting the test, audiologists also need to consistently monitor the children’s interest level during the test and keep them on tasks, Chung said.
Chung said preliminary results from children tested in the United States suggest that many 3- to-4-year olds could be examined using the game-based automatic testing. This means the automatic test can allow for children’s hearing screenings at a younger age than a standard audiometry test and without trained audiologists. The long-term goal is to help equip community health workers with hearing screening tools and to facilitate early identification of hearing loss so that children and adults with hearing problems can be referred for professional interventions.
Working in Brazil provides Chung the opportunity to examine whether children’s hearing can be tested reliably without a well-trained audiologist. Audiologists are highly concentrated in cities, and Brazil does not yet mandate hearing screenings for elementary school students.
“Hearing loss can cause a lot of problems with communication, and kids who can’t hear well are more likely to fail in school and experience speech, language and cognitive development delays,” Chung said. “Sometimes when kids can’t hear, people might think they are dumb. But, if you give them hearing devices and proper guidance and training, they may exceed their peers.”
The children Chung and her collaborators identify as needing hearing aids or other hearing services will be referred to the clinics of the collaborating universities which will provide the appropriate hearing devices and other follow up services.
The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sponsors U.S. and foreign participants for scholarly exchanges in areas of research including the sciences, business, academe, public service, government and the arts. A major goal of the program is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries. The grants are appropriated annually by the U.S. Congress.
Chung said the support of the Fulbright Program is important in multiple ways. The diplomatic mission and personal impact are as important as the academic exchanges.
“If people know an American Scholar has the heart to help facilitate a nationwide hearing screening program in their country, imagine the amount of goodwill the people might have toward the U.S.,” she said.
Chung also hopes to impart that humanitarian goodwill to her students here at NIU. By sharing stories from other countries, she hopes to inspire her students to do more humanitarian and pro bono work both outside and inside the U.S. She also hopes her work from the Brazil studies will be published and support other similar projects around the world. Her next stop is Hong Kong.
Chung is the first School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders professor to receive a Fulbright Scholar Award. Sherrill Morris, chair of the school, praised Chung’s long history of humanitarian service and of sharing her passion with NIU students by taking them on annual Heart of Hearing humanitarian trips.
“Dr. Chung is well-deserving of the Fulbright U.S. Scholars Award, and we are happy to have her serve as a U.S. representative in Brazil,” Morris said. “NIU will definitely benefit from the collaborations Dr. Chung establishes as well as the knowledge she will bring back with her.”
However, Chung is not the first from NIU to receive a Fulbright to work in Brazil: In 2018, Anne Hanley, an associate professor of Latin American history, earned an award to teach a graduate seminar at the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão Preto campus. Hanley is in Brazil on her third Fulbright. Chung said she is grateful to Henley for sharing her Fulbright application as an example, and for other tips Hanley provided.
“I was happy to help King Chung develop a successful proposal for her Fulbright U.S. Scholars Program award,” Hanley said. “This program is valuable for fostering international collaboration in research and teaching, offering fresh perspectives on our research assumptions and teaching practices. I know that I have benefited greatly from this experience.”