Thursday, May 27, 2010

School Helps Children Open Their Ears

School Helps Children Open Their Ears


Memphis, Tn - Just days away from her pre-school graduation Autumn Hankins is beside herself with excitement. She's on the verge of tears, "Momma's gonna cry too." Happy tears as Autumn calls them.

The Hankins have been on an emotional journey. Doctor's say the newborn suffered profound hearing loss at birth. "She failed the hearing screening in the hospital three times," says her mom, Crystal. She goes on to say, "I caught the flu while I was actually in labor with her. That is the medical reason they have as to why she is hearing impaired."

The diagnosis was overwhelming and intimidating. Autumn spent the first six months of her life undergoing tests while the family adapted.

"We did take some sign language classes because originally that's how we did start language with her. She was a little bitty baby doing baby signs, so that's how she would communicate with her," says Crystal.

Doctors worked hard to help her hear. The first attempt was hearing aids, but the devices didn't make much of a difference. Surgery at LeBonheur Children's Hospital would prove to give her the sound she never had. She received her first cochlear implants when she was a year old.

From there, the family was referred to the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf, a place that prides itself on empowering deaf children to listen, learn and talk.

Executive Director Teresa Schwartz explains the technology, "The cochlear device consists of two main components, a sound processor and transmitter worn around the ear, and a receiver implanted underneath the skin with cords attached to nerves in the inner ear. A magnet connects the external components with the implant. The receiver sends currents to the ear, creating a sense of sound."

Autumn has perhaps the best explanation, "Like you have them in now, when you take them off, what's the difference? Like I can't hear, watch. So when I'm talking now, you can't hear what I'm saying? What?"

Autumn says she takes "her ears", as mom and dad call them, off at bath time and bedtime. E

Early on, autumn wondered why. Crystal explains, "She wants to know why she has cochlear implants and everybody else doesn't. That's probably more of her bigger question, so we just explain to her, God made you special."

Schwartz says one in every three hundred and thirty three children are born with some level of hearing loss. Recent studies show kids who have the implants before they are two, learn faster and better. This Germantown based school helps with both of those, developing listening skills and language skills so they can communicate without having to rely on sign language.

Before graduating, every student here will be able to talk. To make that a reality, every day, each student has 30 minutes of speech therapy, and 30 minutes of aural habilitation, which is listening therapy. For autumn, it's made a world of difference in the 4 years she's been in the program.

Her mom is overjoyed, "They've changed her life in the sense that now she can just move on, and go to a public school, and not be in a special education program."

Not only is she talking, she also plays the violin. Her success story is more than the Hankins family ever imagined. Now she's days away from completing the program at the oral school.

A milestone that's miraculous, in a way. Getting to graduation has been a long road, and now it's bittersweet for this 6 year old, bubbling over with personality.

on Friday, after 4 years of highs and lows, Autumn will end one chapter in her life, and begin anew, never forgetting the school that helped her hear, talk, and develop in ways her mother never imagined.

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