“Yeah!” The three-year-old girl cheered loudly each time she heard the pure tone through the audiology headphones. She would then enthusiastically drop the audiometry toy into the bucket with an extra punch. Moments like these put me in a good mood very fast.
We started our audiology clinics and family consults this past Monday. These two aspects of our program work in tandem. Forty-eight families of children with hearing loss representing a wide swath of schools in our Deaf Education program are scheduled one audiology and one therapy appointment over the next two weeks. A few of these children received their hearing aids from the Global Foundation during our January Mobile Mission. It has been inspiring to see the children’s progress and know that we are training their teachers and families about how to help them utilize their hearing aids and sustain their auditory and spoken language progression.
Each family starts with our audiology team. With our professionals’ careful oversight, the students in our audiology training program are practicing what they learned in the first two weeks. Each child gets an audiogram and their hearing aids checked. Our professionals and audiology students review case history and discuss audiological management with the parents. In some cases, the child’s teacher is joining in the conversation as well. New hearing aid fittings for some children will take place later this week.
After the audiology consult, the family goes on to meet with one of our deaf education professionals, auditory-verbal therapists, or speech language pathologists. During these sessions, the focus is on providing families with techniques and strategies they can use to help their children make the best use of their hearing devices. The parents are coming with their children, often as couples, wholly engaged and anxious to learn. In hour-long therapy appointments, our professionals demonstrate and practice play techniques with the families.
The convergence of our teacher and audiology training efforts, hearing aid distribution, and family consultations across the 35 schools involved in our summer and mobile mission programs has really come to life this week.
In an earlier blog post, I shared that one of the Level 2 teachers brought a video of her therapy session with a boy who received his first pair of hearing aids during our January Mobile Mission. He has a moderate hearing loss and attends a school in a rural part of Vietnam. His teacher has been in our training program for the past two years.I reflected on how great it was that the boy had hearing aids and a therapist in our Level 2 program who was now engaged in a video analyis about how to help him with his spoken language progression.
Well, the boy, his mother, and teacher came for his audiology and therapy appointment yesterday. We answered their collective questions and collaborated to make a few adjustments to his hearing aids to help increase his auditory potential. Thanks to his teacher and family’s efforts, the boy has made good progress with his listening and spoken language skills since January.
In another example, a mother of a 4-year-old entered our teacher training program last year. Her son had just received his first pair of hearing aids. Over the course of this past year, the mother practiced the auditory-verbal strategies and techniques she had learned during our summer program and our January mobile mission with her son. She came to our Level 2 training course this summer and attended the parent program. Her son now has a more extensive vocabulary and is able to identify sounds without looking at the person making the sounds. The next step is to help him articulate those sounds without visual reinforcement. During the therapy consult, one of our therapists, Helen Zuganelis, showed her some strategies to help him achieve that.
The success stories are heartwarming, but there are somber tales too that drive us. A little girl in one of our family therapy sessions was identified with hearing loss at age 1. The family is extremely poor and bought the cheapest hearing aid they could afford for her. Unfortunately, the body aid broke after just a week and the child has been without a hearing device for 2 years. She has no language at all – no spoken language or sign language. Hospital test results indicate this child is a candidate for a cochear implant. The price? $20,000. Vietnam health care does not cover the cost of hearing aids or cochlear implants. The family qualifies for some financial support, bringing that price down to about $11,000. As my audiology friend in Seattle would say, “that’s jumbo shrimp” — meaning, when you’re poor, $11,000 is still very much out of range.
One of the things that we are finding in our audiology consults is that children’s hearing aids are not matching their audiograms. The hearing aids are often not powerful enough or are set about 20db too low for the child to understand the speech sounds. Our audiologists have been adjusting the hearing aids as they can. They are also showing the audiology program participants how to use hearing aid test box results to ensure that the hearing aids are adjusted to fit the audiogram of each child to maximize their hearing potential. This concept is a new one for them. So more training needs to be done… meanwhile, we’ll savor the bright moments as they come.