Helping Deaf Children Learn to Speak
Fall 2011 Issue | By Chris Gabettas
TODDLER EARLY LISTENING AND LANGUAGE PROGRAM
Paw prints lead down a hallway at ISU-Meridian, through the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders and to the entrance of the Speech and Language Clinic.
A therapy room is decorated with panels of brightly colored fabric to resemble a circus tent. Lions, tigers, monkeys and elephants hang from the ceiling. There are books in one corner and a boom box in another. A kid couldn't help but have a good time here.
And good times are an important part of the Toddler Early Listening and Language Program -known as TELL-which consists of group therapy sessions for children, ages 2 to 5, who have mild to profound hearing loss.
"Our goal is to give the children the opportunity to develop and practice spoken language skills as well as interact with their peers," said TELL program supervisor Susie Jones, a licensed-speech language pathologist with the Elks Hearing & Balance Center in Boise and Nampa. Jones also serves on the Elks' Boise Cochlear Implant Team.
"Many of the TELL toddlers were diagnosed with hearing loss at birth or during infancy and use hearing aids or cochlear implants to amplify sound and assist with language development," said Jones, a 2004 graduate of ISU-Meridian's speech-language pathology master's program.
Jones notes that infants can be fitted with hearing aids as young as a month old, but "listening doesn't happen automatically. Rehabilitation is necessary," she said.
The toddlers meet with ISU student therapists twice a week in 30-minute private sessions, followed by an hour of group therapy where they work on listening, speech and social skills. By starting the rehabilitation process early, deaf children have the opportunity to overcome learning deficits related to hearing loss and prepare for mainstream school.
The TELL program began at ISU-Meridian in 2010. Five youngsters attended the 2011 summer session on scholarships, thanks to a $1,000 grant from the Idaho Community Foundation's Walter and Leona Dufresne Fund.
A NIGHT AT THE CIRCUS
On a Tuesday evening in June, 5-year-old Omalola Onanubosi, who goes by "Lola," follows the paw prints to the clinic for her 30-minute session with student therapist Sarah Cook. They sit on the floor next to a doll house.
"Grab the doll, and place her in bed," says Cook, using speech and sign language. Lola places the doll in her bed and repeats the word "bed."
Lola, who wears a soft-band bone-conduction hearing aid called a BAHA-which looks like a sweatband an athlete might wear-is working on two-step directions and formulating two and three-word combinations.
"Lola speaks with limited vocabulary so improving her vocabulary is essential," said Lola's father, Dayo, who watches the session from behind a one-way mirror.
Jones, whose youngest son was born deaf, notes that approximately 98 percent of deaf children are born to parents who have no hearing loss. Parents can feel lost because they lack the knowledge and confidence to help their child. TELL provides parents with strategies to develop spoken language skills, the opportunity to practice those strategies in group sessions and at home, and to share ideas with other parents.
After Lola's session concludes, she moves into group therapy with 4-year-old Ryder Amestoy and 2-year-old Connor Davies. The kids greet each other and admire Ryder's tennis shoes. Then they get to work.
As student therapist Jenny Hoskins reads the P.D. Eastman classic "Go Dog. Go!" she prompts the children to count the dogs on a page and call out the number.
TELL program supervisor and ISU clinical instructor Susie Jones sits with Lola Onanubosi and Ryder Amestoy as they do a listening and language exercise.
In another listening exercise, the toddlers hold bean bags and sing to music playing on the boom box.
"Put that bean bag on your knee, on your knee, on your knee. Put that bean bag on your foot, on your foot," they sing as they balance the bean bags on the appropriate appendage.
Then each child belts the chorus into a plastic microphone -"nah, nah, nah ." "fah, fah, fah..."
"It's important for children with hearing loss to develop natural speech and rhythm, and music helps facilitate this process," explains Jones.
Jones, Cook and Hoskins say the TELL sessions are as rewarding for them as they are for the children and parents.
"This is my first experience with this age group. It's nice to apply what I've learned in class to real-world situations. The kids are so much fun," said Cook.
"I love the kids, and the fact they have so much potential," said Jones. "We as parents, caregivers and students have to bring that out of them."
Andrea Amestoy says the TELL program is helping her son, Ryder, reach his potential. She admits she was devastated when he was diagnosed with moderate to severe hearing loss at 5 weeks old and fitted with hearing aids.
"Questions were running through my mind. What caused it? What does it mean? Will he ever talk?" she said.
Through strong family support, intensive therapy and rehabilitation programs like TELL, Ryder speaks clearly and fluently. He's thinking about a world beyond kindergarten and SpongeBob, topics that occupy many youngsters his age.
"We were driving the other day, just talking about things, and Ryder asked where he was going to go to college," said Amestoy.