By Darel Sorensen, Ed.D.
When our grandchild Mikaela, now 15, was born, newborn hearing screening was not yet an option at their hospital in California. She was diagnosed with a sensorineural hearing loss at age 23 months, after we noticed she had delayed speech.
At age 2 she began attending an “early start program” and preschool at age 3. Two years later Mikaela was joined in preschool by her younger brother Christian Joseph (CJ), now 13. He had passed the newborn screening test, but by age 2 1/2 he began to lose his hearing. After an alert teacher suggested testing, CJ was also diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss.
To attend school, Mikaela and CJ traveled for one hour each day. The bus ride is a long one for kids who are toddlers, but our anxiety was tempered knowing that Mikaela and CJ would be getting specialized assistance with their hearing, speech, and language skills as well as learning how to sign. It would help prepare them for mainstream school classes.
Before she was 3 years old, Mikaela had cochlear implant (CI) procedures in both ears. A few years later, also at age 3, CJ also received a CI for his left ear and a hearing aid in his right.
Since the deaf and hard-of-hearing (DHOH) program in their school district spans kindergarten through high school, they have benefited from learning communication and coping skills from the same DHOH and speech-language therapists as they got older. They know to ask to sit on the side of the classroom, so they can more easily rotate to face whoever is speaking, and to be specific about what part of a conversation they missed when asking for something to be repeated.
Thanks to this consistent help, Mikaela and CJ were able to be mainstreamed into their local schools. Now in middle school, CJ has tried his hand at sports and now plays clarinet in the marching band; he was also selected to play in the concert band. Mikaela has played on the school basketball team for four years and received this commendation from her DHOH specialist:
“Mikaela exudes confidence in class, never shying away from raising her hand, offering her insights, speaking up about her ideas and opinions. She advocates for herself by talking with her teachers about what works best for her. She is energetic, personable, and hardworking. In addition to her own success, she looks out for her fellow hard-of-hearing peers in order to help them succeed as well.”
Recently there was talk that the DHOH program may be moving from its current locations. Mikaela was quick to contact the administration to tell them how much the program meant to her and to her success: “Both DHOH and mainstream teachers… helped me understand everything, and now I’m a straight-A student because of them,” she wrote.
“The DHOH campuses are safer, friendlier, and better than most schools…. If you move the program you’ll be losing the teachers, staff, and students who treated us like family [and] the hearing students at those schools will be losing the ability of learning another language (sign language) and being friends with the deaf. PLEASE KEEP THE PROGRAMS WHERE THEY ARE!! Thanks for reading.”
These steps toward self-advocacy, as well as their self-confidence and concern for others, will serve them well. We could not be more proud. We wanted to share this story about our grandchildren because we believe in HHF and its mission of research, education, and prevention of hearing loss.
Darel Sorensen, Ed.D., is a retired educational psychologist and director of special education services. He lives with his wife, Betty, in California.