During September, nearly all of us – at least in the U.S. – think back on our memories of the start of the school year. Returning to school is an exciting time and is no different for children with or without hearing loss. Once mainstreamed, they eagerly look forward to seeing their friends once again.
AG Bell believes in equal access to education where every child can experience the excitement of learning. In this spirit, AG Bell offers several scholarships and initiatives to students with hearing loss who use listening and spoken language to assist in their education. AG Bell financial aid programs are there for new parents looking to support equipment, therapy or learning enrichment for their child, and AG Bell scholarships can help parents and high school seniors plan for college education. Our focus is to give children with hearing loss the same educational experience as their hearing peers.
This year, three college scholarship winners enjoyed unique summer research experiences at the Johns Hopkins University (JHU) schools of Medicine and Engineering under the mentorship of Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering Dr. Tilak Ratnanather as part of the STEM-HEAR initiative.The three high-achieving students included Rachit Kuman (Georgia Institute of Technology), Garrett Brown (University of Florida) and Sam Bidwell (Wesleyan University). I want to congratulate all of our winners this year, shown here.
The shining example these outstanding students portray began with their parents’ commitment to Listening and Spoken Language. Every parent of a child with hearing loss needs access to information and support if they wish for their child to hear and talk – nobody makes this journey alone, and no one has to go it alone. AG Bell Chapters are a great resource to connect with parents and professionals who have experienced this journey. If you are a parent, I encourage you to think back on that initial diagnosis, your worries and concerns. When you meet others, I hope you’ll encourage them to take advantage of our New Parent Hotline.
For those unfamiliar with this initiative, it’s an international hotline for parents, caregivers and guardians to contact and speak with a qualified professional about next steps for their child recently diagnosed with hearing loss. It’s free, confidential and the first-of-its-kind. Concerned caregivers connect with our Early Intervention Parent Consultant Julie Swaim via telephone, email or video conference to receive guidance from a parent who has made this journey with her own child. Julie is extremely knowledgeable and can easily call on the expertise of professionals at hand to answer caller questions within 24 hours.
It was not a coincidence we launched this hotline during September; “back to school” month is also Newborn Screening Awareness Month across the U.S. Since the codification of Senate Bill 652 – the Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Act – in 2000, the number of newborns screened for hearing loss has catapulted from just 44 percent to over 97 percent. We have come incredibly far in early screening efforts, but just being aware that your child may have a hearing loss isn’t enough. Parents need to take swift action for early intervention if they wish their child to learn to listen and speak. I encourage parents of recently identified children who have hearing loss to call Julie Swaim with early screening and intervention questions. Knowledge is power, and we at AG Bell want to give parents the most accurate information available so they have the power to make an appropriate decision about communication options for their child.
The New Parent Hotline is part of our Cradle to Career Initiative and is developed with the collaboration of our partners, Cochlear and GN ReSound. It’s indicative of our belief in the importance of early identification and intervention to help children with hearing loss achieve listening and spoken language and live a limitless life. The New Parent Hotline provides explanations to key topics and concerns in English and Spanish.
I am thrilled to launch this hotline and excited to see it grow into a dependable resource for parents of children recently diagnosed with hearing loss. To the children returning to school, I welcome you back to the classroom and urge you to remember this is a new beginning and another chance to learn how to change the world for the better!
Chief Executive Officer
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing