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The Del Rosarios with Eden Yows

Breaking the Sound Barrier

August 2002

by Amanda Gallagher

Oh the possibilitiesô," Fisher-Priceģ promises on all of its toys. But the company probably never predicted what was possible with its Roly Poly Chime Ball. Fisher-Priceģ created the musical orb in the 1960s. Itís supposed to stimulate an infantís interest in sound. Ironically, the toy is a useful tool for babies who can hardly hear anything at all.

The chime ball is part of early-intervention therapy for infants diagnosed with a hearing impairment. It also is part of the curriculum in the Health Science Centerís newly founded masterís degree program for deaf education and hearing science.

The program began May 20 and is a joint venture between the department of occupational therapy and the Sunshine Cottage, a private school dedicated to educating and mainstreaming hearing-impaired and deaf children
into a "hearing" society. Not only will the program ease the severe shortage of teachers trained in deaf education, it will improve the way educators teach hearing-impaired students.

"The world of deaf education has been associated with special education for its entire history," said Marilyn S. Harrington, Ph.D., dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences. "But there have been many developments in technology to improve hearing ability. That medical/health advance has an impact on deaf education."

The technology includes improved hearing aids and a device called a cochlear implant. The implant can be permanently imbedded in children as young as 12 months. While it doesnít completely restore hearing, it enables hearing-impaired students to recognize sounds.

"More than 50 percent of the students at Sunshine Cottage have cochlear implants," said Debra Perrett, Ph.D., program director and assistant professor in deaf education and hearing science at the Health Science Center. "With these devices, children have the potential to achieve normal speech capabilities. Our teachers need knowledge of implants and how to train kids auditorially to use those devices." And that is exactly what the masterís degree program does.

It is the only program in the state of Texas with an exclusively oral emphasis, meaning children are taught to listen and learn spoken language, rather than use sign language. "There are a lot of advantages to this type of approach," Dr. Perrett said. "Children learn to use whatever residual hearing they may have, as well as the spoken language, so they are able to integrate into the mainstream."

Thirteen graduate students are enrolled in the masterís degree program. Most are certified teachers like Eden Yows.

Yows has taught hearing-impaired children in the Comal Independent School District for the past seven years. Because of the increased options for hearing-impaired students, Yows wanted to advance her skills. "I wanted more information about new technology and I wanted knowledge about hearing aids, cochlear implants and auditory and verbal therapy," Yows said.

She is completing the bulk of her training at the Sunshine Cottage, where she has the opportunity to work with infants, like 7-month-old John Matthew Del Rosario.

"We found out he had mild to moderate hearing loss in both ears the week after he was born," said Brenda Del Rosario, John Matthewís mother. "We came here when he was only a month old. It really helps a lot."

John Matthew wears hearing aids in both his ears. He proudly pulls out the devices when he gets the opportunity. But when Yows takes out the Roly Poly Chime Ball, John Matthews takes an interest in the mechanical chords plunking out of the toy.

"We want sound to be his first source of information," Del Rosario said. "This helps him recognize sounds and heís actually talking more. He canít say real words yet, of course, but he makes baby sounds. We want him to learn to sign eventually. But I donít want that to be his main source of communication."

And thanks to the Health Science Centerís graduate program, John Matthew should have no trouble breakingthat sound barrier.

Dr. Harrington now plans to create a joint Ph.D. program with UTSA. "We also want our faculty and students to work as team members with the physicians and audiologists in the Health Science Centerís department of otolaryngology," Dr. Harrington said. "No one profession can provide care for every patient. Improving the quality of life is a team effort. But together, we can do it."


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