Introducing Lucy Shiels

Lucy Shiels

Lucy Shiels has recently accepted a position as a Clinical Audiologist Intern at the School of Health Science’s Department of Speech Pathology & Audiology. She is enjoying pushing boundaries working in groundbreaking research at the Autism Listening Clinic and hopes to pursue a career in auditory processing.

Your internship focuses on different experiences and areas of audiology, with a focus on children with autism. Could you talk us through some of the priorities?

At the moment, I’m working three days a week in the Autism Listening Clinic here with Clinician Philippa James. There I get to work closely with children on the autism spectrum. Through my work in this clinic, I am also involved in research projects with a company called Phonak. For the other two days a week I’m usually working in the general clinic, where I conduct hearing tests and provide management options to adult patients. Soon I’ll also be involved in some research with Cochlear, another company we work closely with.

Autism research is actually a very new field in audiology; we’re the only clinic that does this kind of work at the moment in Australia. Often, people don’t really think that audiology is part of the support network for children with autism - they often only see speech pathologists, occupational therapists and paediatricians. Philippa started this clinic in partnership with Phonak only a couple of years ago. It’s exciting to be pioneering this new and evolving aspect of audiology.

Could you talk us through what you get up to in a regular day?

In the autism clinic, we see patients who struggle with auditory processing issues. We see a few children each day and play a lot of different listening games with them to establish what their skills are like. Based on what the results are, we decide whether there’s any remediation options that we can use to help.

Other days, I’ll be doing data collection for research. I’ll also have days with adult patients, which is mainly diagnostic work based around what kind of hearing loss they have. Depending on their results we create management plans for them.

If you were going to go into a PhD do you think autism would be your main area of research?

I would love to do a PhD in the area of auditory processing disorders, either in general or on the difficulties children with autism struggle with specifically.  Lots of people think audiologists just do hearing tests, but auditory processing kind of delves into how people don’t just hear things but have to listen and make sense of them.

It looks at using hearing in a real-world context to make sense of speech and derive meaning. It’s more so looking at how well people can listen in more complex environments, rather than how well they can actually hear sound.  A lot of the time, if people have auditory processing issues, they can struggle in more complex or noisy environments.

Children with autism often struggle in class because of background noise and other students talking. It’s not that they can’t hear the teacher, but everything just gets a bit muddled with all the background noise. Auditory processing looks at how this can be remediated and managed to help children listen and participate more freely.

Lucy Shiels

What are your career plans for the future?

I’m enjoying the research side of the internship and am looking forward to potentially doing a PhD.

I want to continue at the University of Melbourne. I really enjoy the diversity the University offers. I love that you can do a mix of research and clinical practice, so I really hope to continue with both.

What was behind your decision to study and then work at the University of Melbourne?

I’m the kind of person who loves to continue learning and challenging myself in diverse roles. When I heard there was a position here it sounded like the perfect opportunity for me to learn through research, and to still get to be involved in clinical practice.

Also, the standard of clinical practice here is like nowhere else. Because we are a teaching clinic, we have access to a lot more resources, and are a lot more thorough with different diagnostic tests. I think it’s a really great environment to practice in.