University of Iowa researchers are traveling the state to study the communication abilities of children with hearing loss — from mild to severe cases. Study director Bruce Tomblin, a U-of-I professor of speech pathology and audiology, says the research team is using two large cargo vans as mobile testing laboratories.

Dr. Tomblin says, “We found it was easier for us to go to people rather than dragging them all the way to Iowa City to study.” The five-year study is called the Outcomes of Hearing Loss project, or O-C-H-L, and deals with children from newborns through age six. The techniques for testing a child’s hearing are familiar to most Iowans and haven’t changed much in decades.

Tomblin says the child is fitted with a set of headphones and is asked to listen for a series of tones. “The tones are at different frequencies and the tone is varied with regard to how loud it is,” Tomblin says. “How loud do we have to make this tone in order for you to be able to hear it? Raise your hand when you do.” He says the testing goes beyond gauging a child’s ability to simply hear as it also judges their communication abilities.

Tomblin says, “In these vans, a lot of what we’re doing is looking at a variety of characteristics of these children with regard to their ability to hear, particularly to hear speech, understand things that are spoken to them, express themselves with language, their speech development.”

Overall, he says the study’s goal is to find the best ways to help these children advance their speech, language, social and academic skills. Eligible children must be from a home where at least one caregiver speaks English. There is no requirement that the child use hearing aids. Participation involves at least one visit per year for three years. In the next few weeks, the vans will be making stops in: Marion, Newhall, Iowa City, Garnavillo, Jewell, Ankeny, Osceola and Des Moines. For more information, call 800-551-5601 or visit “www.ochl-study.org“.