New Grant Supports Pediatric Audiology Program at Mailman Center for Child Development

The Mailman Center for Child Development was awarded a $375,000 supplemental grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to support the center’s pediatric audiology training program.

Research has shown that early identification of hearing loss and intervention is key to reducing the impact on speech, language, and social skills, and to helping children reach their full potential.

Dr. Robert Fifer

Early newborn hearing screening has increasingly become standard practice across the country. But the number of audiology professionals who can provide the complex care needed for babies who fail the screen, and particularly those who have or are at risk for autism spectrum disorder and/or other developmental disabilities, is limited.

As part of a national effort to alleviate this shortage of pediatric audiologists, the Health Resources and Services Administration recently awarded a $375,000 supplemental grant over five years to the Mailman Center for Child Development. The grant will also strengthen the focus on screening, treatment, and follow-up for infants and young children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing and who have or are at risk for developmental disabilities.

The grant supports the Mailman Center’s pediatric audiology program, which provides trainees with clinical and leadership skills as well as expertise in improving and delivering care to infants and young children with ASD/DD, allowing them to work across disciplines to better serve children with hearing loss and their families.

Detecting Early Hearing Loss

“The hearing loss that we find in a child may represent the first symptom of problems impacting other systems of the body,” said Dr. Robert Fifer, director of audiology and speech-language pathology at the Mailman Center. “And so we have to know and incorporate a number of skills that go beyond the typical boundaries of audiology training, for example, collaboration with other specialties depending upon what we find each step of the way.”

Fifer noted that an audiology doctoral curriculum of about 95 hours only dedicates about nine hours of coursework credit to pediatrics. Practicum experiences, like that of the Mailman Center, are crucial to providing the multi-disciplinary, inter-professional, and specialized skills needed to care for babies with hearing loss.

The HRSA pediatric audiology grant is funded through the Autism CARES Act and awarded every five years to 12 LEND programs across the nation. It allows the program to attract some of the best candidates by providing a stipend and covering the cost for conference attendance.

“The significance of a grant like this,” Fifer said, “is that it allows us to do much more than what we can do otherwise.”

Preparing for Complex Issues

Training at the Mailman Center, a University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities, prepares students for some of the most complex cases in pediatric audiology.

Trainees, who are audiology students in their final year of study, learn about disorders of hearing in childhood and participate as members of an interdisciplinary team. They participate in the LEND (Leadership Development in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) curriculum, a federally funded inter-professional training program based on family professional partnerships.

In addition, as part of a partnership between the Mailman Center and the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Miami, they now have the unique opportunity to receive cochlear implant training.

In Miami-Dade County, there are three pediatric audiology facilities with full capability for hearing and related services to infants, serving a population of approximately 2.7 million people. Across the state and the country, families often have to travel long distances to access care, limiting their ability to respond to the child’s needs.

Since its creation in 2008, 26 trainees have graduated from the Mailman Center pediatric audiology training program. And 89% of them are working in key positions where pediatric audiology is at the center of their professional activities.

Tags: Autism Cares Act, autism spectrum disorder, Mailman Center for Child Development, pediatric audiology, Robert Fifer