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Ear Masters

Graduate students prepare for the future of deaf education

May 2004

by Melissa J. Smith

An 8-year-old boy sits at the kitchen table doing his homework. He discusses his school day with his mother as she stands behind him looking through the mail. What might appear like an average evening for a third-grader isnít typical at all for this particular child. Thatís because this boy is deaf and communicating without sign language or lip reading.

The demand for educational programs that teach hearing-impaired children to use their residual hearing and the latest in hearing technology is growing. According to Elizabeth Wilkes, Ph.D., program director, deaf education is moving away from sign language and now emphasizes the development of listening, speech and language. This approach, known as auditory-oral education, is the focus of the masterís degree program in deaf education and hearing science at the Health Science Center.

"I get calls from schools around the nation looking for teachers who know this method," Dr. Wilkes said. "We canít graduate them fast enough."

Programs like the one at the Health Science Center are rare, with only eight others like it in the nation. Established in 2002, the program provides intensive training that prepares students to teach hearing-impaired children to learn spoken language through the use of residual hearing, high-powered hearing aids and implants such as bone anchored hearing aids and cochlear implants.

The program provides its students with basic education in audiology and otolaryngology, as well as hands-on opportunities to work with hearing-impaired children.

Ruth Skellett, Ph.D., assistant professor in the deaf education and hearing science program and the department of otolaryngology at the Health Science Center, teaches students the basics of audiology and aural habilitation, the process of developing spoken communication skills in hearing-impaired individuals. This includes the basics of sound and the anatomy and physiology of speech and hearing. Students are taught to interpret audiograms, hearing tests that measure the maximum and minimum pitches and volume of sounds a person can hear.

"Students need a basic understanding of these subjects to be able to convey them to parents interested in the progress of their hearing-impaired children," Dr. Skellett said.

The students are also taught basic equipment troubleshooting and how to operate FM technology used in the classroom, such as the transmitter a teacher wears to amplify his or her voice for hearing-impaired students wearing receivers.

Otolaryngology faculty members also contribute to educating the programís students by teaching them about the anatomy of the ear, the causes of deafness, basic disease processes and how they affect the ear. Faculty also provide special lectures on outer ear prosthetics and hearing aids.

Faculty and administrators of the master of deaf education and hearing science program have partnered with teachers at the Sunshine Cottage School for Deaf Children. The school serves as a laboratory where masterís program students can work with deaf children in sound booths. Students learn to use sophisticated FM transmission technology to train the children to effectively use their residual hearing. Students are required to complete two apprenticeships in which they apply their course work to equipment troubleshooting and to teaching deaf children to speak.

Forty-six percent of deaf children are enrolled in auditory oral education programs, and this figure is steadily rising. The Health Science Center is proud that graduates of its masterís degree in deaf education and hearing science program are helping these children experience one of lifeís greatest gifts - the joy of hearing.


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