Auburn Spotlight, Kelli Watts

"The most rewarding part of the research is seeing kids helping other kids."
Kelli Watts
Assistant Clinical Professor, Speech and Hearing Clinic
College of Liberal Arts

Spotlight Interview

Kelli Watts, assistant clinical professor with the Auburn University Speech and Hearing Clinic, recently received a $140,000 grant from ReSound, an international hearing solutions company, to create an alternative metric for pediatric hearing aid fittings. Watts, along with professors emerita Sandra Clark-Lewis and Judith Blumsack, will demonstrate how head circumference affects a child’s ear canal acoustics, providing audiologists with a more accurate metric for pediatric hearing aid fittings. More information on the grant is available online.

How will the grant from ReSound impact your research on pediatric hearing aids?

The grant from Resound has allowed my colleagues and me to implement this project. With the money from the grant we have been able to purchase new equipment, pay participants and hire two graduate research assistants. In the first phase of the project, we will measure the head circumference and ear canal acoustics of 500 children to establish normative data. In the second phase of the project, my colleagues and I will travel to Guatemala to collect the same data on malnourished children to see if the correlation holds.

How is head circumference a more reliable measurement for fitting hearing aids?

The standard for the industry is to measure each individual’s unique ear canal acoustics. These measurements are highly variable, especially in children. However, there are occasions—excessive ear wax or ear drainage in the ear canal, lack of equipment to measure ear canal acoustics or uncooperative patient behavior—when an individual’s unique ear acoustics cannot be accurately measured. When these ear canal acoustic measurements cannot be obtained, then age-based norms can be used. In previous studies, my colleagues and I found that these age-based norms were not consistent with the individually measured ear canal acoustics of children with small stature due to malnutrition. We completed additional research comparing ear canal acoustics measurements to age, height, weight and head circumference. While all measurements had some significant predictive value, head circumference correlated to ear canal acoustics at more frequencies that the other measurements.

Why is having an accurately fitting hearing aid so important?

The goal of any hearing aid fitting is to give the wearer access to as many sounds as possible, especially speech sounds. This is especially true for a child who is still learning language. If a hearing aid does not provide enough volume, the child may not have access to the sounds needed for language-learning, communication and safety. If a hearing aid provides too much volume, it may not be tolerated well by the wearer and could potentially cause additional damage to the hearing system.

How will this research impact the quality of life for children with hearing loss?

Hopefully, having an alternative metric for ear canal acoustics will help audiologists provide more accurate hearing aid fittings especially in poorer countries and areas that may have limited or no access to hearing aid verification equipment.

What is the most rewarding part of your research? 

To me, the most rewarding part of the research is seeing kids helping other kids. Many of the children, especially the older ones, seem excited to be participating, asking questions about what we are doing and the kids they are helping. You would think they were excited about being paid to participate but many of them have donated their reward to another cause.