Dichotic listening is associated with phonological awareness in Australian aboriginal children with otitis media: a remote community-based study

Mridula Sharma*, Amelia Darke, Gillian Wigglesworth, Katherine Demuth

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)
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    Objective: Recent literature has highlighted a link between hearing loss as a result of otitis media in the early years of life and impacted binaural processing skills in later childhood. Such findings are of particular relevance to Indigenous Australian children, who tend to experience otitis media earlier in life and for longer periods than their non-Indigenous counterparts. There is also growing interest in the effects of reduced auditory processing ability on a child's early learning of language and, specifically, on phonological awareness that contributes to word reading skills. The aim of the present study was to determine the association between hearing thresholds, dichotic listening skills and phonological awareness in children with pervasive otitis media (OM) from remote Indigenous communities of Australia who generally do not speak English as a first language.

    Methods: Participants included one hundred and one children between the ages of 4.8-7.9 years (mean 6.1 years) from three separate remote Northern Territory communities. Evaluations included otoscopy, air conduction PTA, and tympanometry. All children were also assessed on the Dichotic Digits difference test (DDdT) and the Foundations of Early Literacy Assessment (FELA), assessing children's dichotic listening and phonological awareness respectively.

    Results: The results showed that 56% of the children had middle ear dysfunctions (type B and type C on tympanometry results) in at least one ear on the day. Partial correlation showed a significant correlation, between dichotic scores and FELA with age as covariate (r = 0.45, p <0.001). One way ANOVA showed females exhibited a significantly higher performance compared to males on FELA [F (1, 99) = 5.47, p = 0.021]. The overall regression model was found to be significant in predicting total FELA scores [F (7, 77) = 7.56, p <0.0005]. Age and gender as well as dichotic listening scores explain 40.7% of the variance.

    Conclusions: The results reinforce the importance of managing the ear health of Indigenous children, clarifying the impact this has on listening and phonological awareness. These findings highlight the importance of evaluating children's listening abilities, and how poor listening can impact phonological awareness. The findings have important implications for ensuring optimal listening and learning conditions in schools in remote NT communities.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number110398
    Pages (from-to)1-9
    Number of pages9
    JournalInternational Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


    • otitis media
    • auditory processing (AP)
    • dichotic listening
    • phonological awareness (PA)
    • children
    • Australian aboriginal population


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