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Posted on Dec 2, 2010 in Advocacy |

Testimony submitted following Public Comment to the Administration on Developmental Disabilities “Envisioning the Future Summit”

Hello, I’m Shon Halacka, President of the Michigan Chapter of the AG Bell Assoc for the Deaf. I also serve as a Governor Appointed Disability Advocate for the Michigan Rehabilitation Council. I am a parent who raised three children all of whom have hearing loss ranging from severe to profound, and are now successful, self-sufficient, contributing members of society.

Hearing loss affects 12,000 children born each year in the US. Over 90% of these children are born to parents who have normal hearing and have no knowledge about hearing loss. Because babies and children learn language by listening to the people around them, undetected or untreated hearing loss can have a devastating effect on the child’s ability to develop speech and language. A child with limited speech and language skills has a difficult time receiving an education. Hearing loss is an invisible condition. Because most parents have limited knowledge, and the child can’t tell you what they’re missing, educators of the deaf and hard of hearing play a more significant role with this particular handicap than others. Families must rely on the school systems to provide the expertise and services their child needs.

The link between hospitals that perform newborn hearing screenings, clinical audiologists that diagnose hearing loss in children and the educational systems in the state need to be strengthened. Every baby should have their hearing tested by one month of age. If a baby fails this newborn hearing screening, that child should be referred to an audiologist for further testing before they are three months old. If the child’s hearing loss is confirmed, the child should be in early intervention by six months of age. Early Hearing Detection and Intervention programs are striving to decrease the loss to follow-up numbers, but their progress is painfully slow – if they show progress at all. Some vital component seems to be missing that continues to allow loss to follow up in every state. Nationally, only slightly more than half of the infants who do not pass hearing screening receive follow-up diagnostic testing and only a third diagnosed with hearing loss receive intervention by 6 months of age.

Early intervention is absolutely critical in order for children with hearing loss to develop the communication skills they need to receive a free and appropriate public education. Children learn language during their preschool years and this establishes their communication skills for the rest of their lives. School districts that underfund early intervention end up spending far more in later years to educate children with hearing loss. These children will ultimately fall short of their potential to earn a living and thus will return less in tax dollars than those who develop good communication skills and are well-educated.

Children with hearing loss need proper amplification and educational audiologists to service them. They need teacher consultants of the hearing impaired, and speech and language teachers who are qualified to teach spoken English to children with hearing loss. In an attempt to cope with economic challenges, some school districts are laying off teacher consultants and audiologists and forcing the remaining staff to service exceedingly large numbers of students. Schools are placing assistive technology, educational audiology and teacher consultants on the IEP as “Other Services”. Under this heading, there are no caseload restrictions. Unreasonable caseloads make it impossible to provide adequate service to students with hearing loss. IDEA needs to establish case load maximums for educational audiologists and teacher consultants who provide either direct or consultative services. IDEA needs to specify who is responsible for implementing the IEP where goals are related to hearing loss.

Some school districts are combining the jobs of teacher consultants and audiologists – these professionals are being asked to perform both jobs so school districts can eliminate one position. Neither is qualified to do the others job. This is caseload manipulation to the detriment of services for children with hearing loss. Between the ages of birth and five years old, children absorb language like thirsty sponges. Every dollar spent on early intervention and early primary services to children with hearing loss is repaid ten-fold later in their education. By providing high quality, appropriate amplification that is serviced regularly by an educational audiologist, schools are ensuring children with hearing loss have access to spoken language. By providing early, high quality instruction by a well trained teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, – a Listening and Spoken Language Certified Auditory Verbal Educator (LSLS Cert. AVEd), schools will reduce the number of hours of special education necessary later. Children with hearing loss also need speech therapy by a speech and language teacher specifically trained to work with the deaf and hard of hearing – a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist who is a Certified Auditory Verbal Therapist (LSLS Cert. AVT). Hiring professionals with these certifications guarantees high quality educators and speech and language instruction. In the Dec. 2010 issue of The Volta Review, the results of a 50-month study on the outcomes of auditory-verbal therapy (AVT) on children with hearing loss “Is Auditory-Verbal Therapy Effective for Children With Hearing Loss?” was published. Results indicate that children with hearing loss who use listening and spoken language are well-adjusted and have language skills on par with their peers with typical hearing.

Many school districts are pushing students with hearing loss into basic 504 Plans instead of IEP’s. Under a 504 Plan, there is no right to due process if a school district fails to provide necessary services. Another cost-saving strategy being implemented by some school districts is to eliminate or curtail periodic hearing screenings in the early elementary years. Unidentified hearing loss can lead to educational struggles or inappropriate labeling of children.

Children with hearing loss are the victims of all these strategies. Standards need to be developed for educational programs of deaf and hard of hearing students in the mainstream or in center-based programs. Standards need to define: the qualifications for professionals serving these hearing impaired students, their job descriptions, their responsibilities and additionally, specify caseload limits. Every IEP needs to state who is responsible for implementing the IEP where goals are specifically related to a child’s hearing loss.

Thank you, Shon Halacka