Three years ago when our daughter Caitlin was 18 months old, she barely spoke ten words. We were concerned about her development so we took her for a hearing test (no screening was available when she was born). It turned out she had permanent mild to moderate sensorineural hearing loss. She was fitted with hearing aids within two weeks and then began intervention a month later. In my sadness, one big concern was whether she would be able to enter kindergarten in our neighborhood school with the young children she already knew. But, three years later, after consistent hearing aid use and weekly intervention, she was ready to go to our local school with her friends.
In the spring before Caitlin turned five, both her preschool teacher and speech and language pathologist thought she was ready to go to Kindergarten that September, but I was nervous about how it would all go. She is a late November baby, was still quite shy/quiet in group situations and she had just managed to learn her capital letters after hours of practice. To make matters worse, we had watched Caitlin struggle through the years with new concepts like learning her colours and the names of her extended family members. I was so worried that the new concepts in Kindergarten would take her a long time to master.
What put our minds at ease was we knew she would receive tons of support. Back in the spring, Caitlin’s preschool teacher (coincidentally a mother of a hard of hearing teenager) referred us to a hearing resource teacher in our school district. We had a meeting in May and started planning her IEP (individualized education plan) with the professionals who would be working with Caitlin. The hearing resource teacher also arranged all the paperwork designating Caitlin such that she would receive as much support as possible. This designation led Caitlin to share a full time specialized education assistant (SEA) with another boy in her kindergarten class. In September, I attended an IEP meeting with the SEA, the classroom teacher and the hearing resource teacher. We spent an hour talking about goals for Caitlin and set three goals connected to her speech, listening and independence with her FM and speaker system. We were told she would be the only child with a hearing loss in her school, which was worrisome. But she spoke well and was very social in small group situations, so we hoped for the best as she embarked into Kindergarten that fall.
Caitlin’s classroom was (happily) small and carpeted, creating an easier listening environment. In addition, the room is bright, colourful and full of books and toys. Overall, the classroom is stimulating but there are predictable routines. The hearing resource teacher works with Caitlin for an hour each week for a one on one session on the IEP goals we set. Also, the classroom teacher uses a sound field system to amplify her voice for all students (so she is very used to wearing a microphone). Caitlin’s FM system patches in reasonably well. The hearing resource teacher even spoke to our hearing aid company and arranged for a dynamic sound field system that matches even better with Caitlin’s FM – so Caitlin is receiving excellent sound quality.
With all of these accommodations and supports, Caitlin has done better than I ever expected. She loves learning her letters and quickly picked up her lower case letters. She is very independent and enjoys picking out original and fashion forward outfits in the morning before school and putting on and connecting her FM when she arrives at school. She looks forward to “special helper day” when she gets to bring something from home in a box writing the first letter of each object on the outside. In September had to help her; by November she chose three items (two frogs and a bird) independently. I looked on the front of the box and she had written “FFB” all by herself – wow, what progress! Caitlin started the year as a very quiet child and did not share her thoughts, but the teacher now tells me that she offers answers during circle time. Caitlin loves making play dates and plays well with others.
The best moment was in December at the Christmas concert. Each class from Kindergarten to Grade Four sang two songs. When I watched our older son in that concert last year, I couldn’t even imagine Caitlin standing up there. If she could be dragged up there, I imagined her standing, head down and silent. Instead, to our delight, Caitlin confidently walked onto the risers, and faced forward, head held high. She sang the songs with joy on her face. She didn’t just sing – she shouted and I sat in my chair and smiled from ear to ear.
Our little girl has blossomed into a fully communicating, happy student who is succeeding in school. We have a long way to go yet (she needs to learn to read and understand math and of course so much more) but I definitely feel much more confident. The support to make sure that the many small things are in place that all add up to helping her succeed has been amazing, and Caitlin has thrived.