Celebrating Success
Group of Audiology students and instructor posing for picture under blue tent

Audiology Study in Guatemala

Giving the gift of hearing
Ashlyn Wheat ’21 Doctor of Audiology student

udiology is a clinical health care field focused on diagnosing and treating hearing and balance disorders to restore health and communication barriers in those impacted. At the heart of our profession is a deep care and concern for the needs and rights of the patients we get to serve. Communication is a universal right, and hearing serves as the gateway to connect us to each other. People with hearing loss, if untreated, can face significant communicative, emotional, physical and social barriers.

Children with untreated hearing loss are particularly at risk for delayed development because hearing plays a vital role in a child’s language development and academic success. Untreated childhood hearing loss may only be exacerbated by lack of proper early intervention and health care access often seen in underserved countries. Children are our most impressionable population and equal access to communication is a universal right; therefore, early detection and proper management of hearing loss can be crucial in setting a child up for success, particularly in an underserved population like Guatemala where there are no practicing audiologists.

Since 2009, the Auburn University Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences has taken a team of doctoral students and clinical supervising audiologists to Guatemala City, Guatemala, to provide audiology services to the underserved deaf and hard of hearing children in Guatemala. This year, our team consisted of five doctoral students.

Ashlyn Wheat ’21 checking the hearing of little girl
In just one week, our team tested hearing, fit hearing aids and made custom earmolds for more than 60 children at the School of the Deaf and Municipality in the Guatemalan public school system. Each of these children with severe to profound hearing loss received a free pair of hearing aids provided to us by incredible donors. It was a joy to use our clinical knowledge for the betterment of these families’ lives in doing our part to break the cycle of poverty by setting these children up for success in academics and everyday communication.

Words are not adequate to express the special impact that the children of Guatemala and the personnel at the Guatemalan Hospital of the Eyes and Ears had on our team. When we arrived at the hospital on the first day, we were greeted with sincere joy and a touching welcome ceremony, in which the Comité Pro Ciegos y Sordos de Guatemala (Guatemalan Committee for the Deaf and Blind) granted us awards and cherished handmade gifts from the children to express their appreciation. This was only a foretaste of the incredible hospitality and genuine care we were shown by the people of Guatemala the rest of the week.

Ashlyn Wheat ’21 with little boy in red shirt smiling
Group photo of students and those welcoming Auburn University to Guatemala
Kelli Watts getting hearing checked by young girl
One of my favorite parts of the trip, besides working with the children, was working with the hospital personnel. Though Guatemala does not have a practicing audiologist, the children we served have been loved and cared for by incredible faculty and staff at the School for the Deaf and Comité Pro Ciegos y Sordos–individuals who have poured into, served and cared for these families and children and their equal access to communication. It was an honor to learn from them and share parts of our clinical knowledge with them as well.
Audiology student with young patient holding up picture
Having the opportunity to travel abroad and steward our clinical knowledge for the well-being of others was an irreplicable experience afforded to us by our incredible Auburn Audiology faculty. It is easy to feel like our field is small when our clinical experience as students is limited to local facilities. For this reason, it was a blessing to gain the valuable experience early in our audiology careers of serving a diverse population with the same clinical compassion and diligence we are learning at Auburn. I am grateful for the dedication of the Auburn faculty in providing this opportunity to broaden our knowledge in a way that encompasses our passion for serving the needs of others. We are better individuals and clinicians for having had this opportunity!
Ashlyn Wheat, from Decatur, Alabama, earned her bachelor’s degree in speech, language and hearing sciences from Auburn University in 2021. She is currently in the second year of the audiology doctoral program, in which she serves as a graduate research assistant for the Auditory Music Perception Lab and helps teach undergraduate courses in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. Her passion for helping children and their families led her to pursue a career in pediatric audiology.
Ashlyn Wheat ’21 and other audiology student with group of patients posing for picture