A California Adventure with Benefits

January 2011

By Anja RosenkeCalifornia Adventure

“You’re going to California for a whole month?!” We smiled at the looks of disbelief that accompanied that question. Yes indeed, we had been accepted to the last of the three international summer sessions for 2010 at the John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles, California. An adventure awaited. As Louise Tracy herself said, we, as parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, are each pioneers embarking on a unique adventure in teaching our children. This particular adventure would take us over a thousand miles south from our home in Vancouver, BC. And that was just the beginning.

Our son Rylan had been born with profound sensorineural bilateral hearing loss in 2007. The kicker is that he was not diagnosed until he was 16 months old. He is little brother by 2 years to our naturally hearing daughter Michaela. Immediately following his diagnosis we were swept up in the services and community networking that are available where we live and are so grateful for this amazing support. Rylan received bilateral cochlear implants sequentially – at 19 months and 31 months old. He is well on his way to learning to listen and to speak. However, as other parents of late diagnosed children can attest, we are still playing a game of catch-up, and this is where the John Tracy Clinic figures in.

We asked ourselves: What more could we gain from attending the John Tracy Clinic? It was a big commitment after all. As a family, we are quite well-read with regards to hearing loss, we are involved in various parent organizations in our community and we receive quality services for Rylan at home. But we felt that if we learned even one more thing that
could help Rylan on his journey, then it was worth going. And besides, we were going on an adventure to California! At the very least we’d have a great family holiday.

With anticipation and a bit of trepidation (mostly about navigating those freeways), we entered the City of Angels in early July 2010. We certainly looked forward to meeting the approximately 20 other families who were also making their way to LA from various parts of the world. We knew to expect a full agenda of parent education classes covering the spectrum of hearing loss topics such as audiology, physiology, speech & language
development, cognition, mainstreaming and more. The child with hearing loss (aged 2-5)
would attend a daily preschool program and any accompanying brothers and sisters in grades 1-6 would attend the sibling program. Counselling, audiology and consultation services would also be available to families.

What we didn’t know – what we couldn’t have known – is how much our 3-week experience at the John Tracy Clinic would impact our lives. The team of staff at the John Tracy Clinic go to extraordinary lengths to not only to provide the comprehensive and relevant educational component to families, but are also dedicated to quickly identifying and addressing each family’s individual concerns and needs. Whether your child needs additional audiological testing, specific language assessments or occupational therapy services, the professionals at the John Tracy Clinic help as much as they can. We sought out feedback regarding possible sensory processing issues and discussed behavioural and relationship concerns with a counsellor. Having so many specialists working as a team under one roof is ideal and enhances the family-centred approach. Their single goal is ensuring the 3-week visit is as beneficial and comfortable as possible for each individual family. Over and over again during the 3-weeks, we as parents were supported, recognized and validated.

Spending 5 hours a day in the parents classroom learning about a wide range of topics relating to hearing loss was immensely valuable. Lectures were given by staff in the various departments of the Clinic. On several occasions we were presented with panels of professionals in the field, panels of youth and adults with hearing loss. We shared our personal stories in support group and out on the green space in the evenings while the children played. With curiosity, compassion and empathy, our perspectives broadened and our understanding deepened. We learned from it all. Our binders are chock full of the information, practical tips and strategies acquired in the classroom and this will provide an invaluable resource as we move forward as teachers and advocates for our children. And the community that was formed between families from our shared experience will also fortify us with lifelong friendships.

What touched me the most at John Tracy Clinic was seeing how both of our children just thrived in that setting. This was Rylan’s first introduction to preschool and to see his self-confidence and enjoyment grow as he connected with his teachers and peers, became familiar with the routines and activities, made the trip worth it for us in itself. He went to school each day like a regular kid – albeit with sound checks and lots of acoustic highlighting! It was reassuring to see him socialize and chat with the others, even with his somewhat limited verbal skills. The preschool teachers emphasize the importance of developing pragmatic skills – language and behaviour specific to social use – in addition to speech and language therapy. Michaela too thoroughly enjoyed the fun activities in the sibling program. At one point she asked me if we could stay there forever.

As much as the sun and surf of the California coast enticed us, and as much support and inspiration we drew from being at John Tracy Clinic, the big picture always remained in the back of our minds: how we would remember and transfer what we learned to our regular lives back at home. Some parents talked about feeling empowered by the experience at John Tracy Clinic, many felt they gained a clearer focus on what the next steps would be. One thing was certain though. We all gained strength through the sense of community that emerged from sharing those 3 weeks with both the John Tracy staff and the other attending families. We learned together, laughed and cried together, and existed in a place where everyone was accepted, most of all our children, each in his or her own unique way.

We will benefit a lifetime from the memories, friendships and knowledge gathered there.

Visit www.jtc.org to find out more about the John Tracy Clinic.

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