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The true sound of freedom

Everyone experiences freedoms of some kind. Freedom of speech, freedom to pursue happiness and freedom to worship are just a few freedoms Americans enjoy. There are other freedoms we enjoy and perhaps take for granted. As parents of an adult child (Alissa 27) who is hearing impaired (profoundly deaf and non-implanted) and an almost 4 year old daughter with bi-lateral implants (Kalin), I wish to address the freedom to listen.
Hearing does not equal listening, but listening is required to have the choice. As parents, we have witnessed the hardships of not having the option of listening. We have witnessed the separation from others because of the inability to communicate, as well as, the frustration of not being able to say exactly what you want to say or the inability to understand what someone is trying to tell you, all day every day. We have witnessed the struggles which a deaf person goes through to make and keep friends, because of the lack of being able to communicate as other hearing people do. Not being able to hear causes isolation and loneliness. Although the non-hearing people look the same as others in a crowd or even alone, they are in fact alone and separate. If there was any way to avoid this separation and hardships for our youngest daughter, we knew we would have to take that path at any cost. As parents of a child who has taken that path, we have had the honor of witnessing the miracle of being able to hear in spite of being born deaf. You see, our daughter was bi-laterally implanted at the age of 20 months thanks to Dr. Audie Woolley. We were there when she turned her head the first time she heard a sound. We saw the look of amazement and the surprised expression on her face as sound entered her world for the first time. Now, she can hear us say “I Love you”. We can now sing her to sleep and wake her up with a “good morning” and a laugh. We can now get her attention by voice rather than by running to touch her or stomping on the floor (deaf people are sensitive to vibration) or turning off the lights. But all of that was just the beginning.

Now that our daughter has the ability to hear, she would now need to learn to listen. Hours of therapy would now be required and while she received therapy once a week at Children’s Hospital from a trained professional that would still not be enough to make up for the lost time she was not hearing. Learning how to continue the therapy throughout the day and become a therapist was essential to our daughter’s success and future. We felt overwhelmed and inadequate to say the least! The processes and techniques used to teach someone to listen are complex and varied. We made posters, flash cards and drawings. We bought any toy or anything we thought would help to teach our daughter to listen and repeat the sounds she heard. She made progress and we would celebrate, however deep inside, we knew she continued to be behind her peers in speech and listening skills. We feared how other kids would react to her and if they would make fun of her Cochlear devises and her inability to speak. Life did not stop while on this journey and the pressure to bring our daughters speech to the same level as her peers was constant and often, yes, overwhelming. My wife and I both have the full time responsibilities of our jobs, raising our normal hearing 5 year old daughter (Chandler), as well as, raising a “special needs child (Kalin)”.

We began to see how hearing children would not really interact with our daughter as they would others and was reminded of the isolation which comes from being deaf. She was young and resilient and fiercely independent, due to living in silence for 20 months. She adapted, but we became even more desperate for her progress. Kalin had been enrolled in a daycare program since she was 2 and they try as best they can to help her, however, they lack the proper training and techniques needed to help her now use the ability she has to listen and speak.

Then we heard about The Woolley Institute for Spoken Language & Education (WISE). We became so excited and began to ask questions and make phone calls. We felt so anxious and excited and began to hope and pray we could enroll our daughter in the program. Just 2 months after our daughter’s 3rd birthday, we were able to visit the school and meet Nancy Gregg. We were blown away! Nancy showed us the wonderful facility, donated by Canterbury Methodist, and introduced us to the other staff and students in the program. It seemed like a dream come true as she allowed us to observe a book reading session, as well as, an example of open set listening exercise! We wanted to cry as our daughter begged to participate and began to interact as though she had always been there. The children were incredible. Most of whom you couldn’t tell had any hearing problems at all unless you saw the devices they wore on their head (sound processors). We stayed for over an hour and signed enrollment papers that very day! We had to drag our daughter away that day and I felt as though our prayers had been answered.

Today my daughter speaks her mind. Her vocabulary has increased tremendously and she now speaks in sentences instead of grunting and pointing. We quickly saw her frustration go down and behavior problems improve as a result of the new communication skills she was learning. After only half of a regular school season and a 6 week summer session, she is rapidly approaching the ability to equal her peers who hear. You see, the primary goal of this program is to assist these children in every way they can to ensure they are as ready to enter main stream school along with their peers. The skills and abilities of the staff at WISE are beyond incredible. Their patience and gentle ways in teaching these children with their needs honestly border angelic. We are so excited to have our daughter enrolled this year to continue her journey in listening and speaking. We feel as parents that we have an obligation to do whatever we have to do in order to keep our daughter in this program as long as the opportunity exist and she is eligible. We have witnessed parents from all over the state drive well over an hour one way to give their child/children an opportunity to attend this wonderful program. It is our prayer that this school and the program it provides would be made available to every child with a need regardless of situation and circumstance. Stop, go, march, please, I love you, sorry, I want to eat, Can I go? My turn, no daddy, no mommy, wait, just a minute. These are just a few examples of the true sounds of freedom.
The freedom to truly listen. The freedom to truly learn. The freedom to truly be able to express one’s self and be understood. These are just a few of the freedoms which give us all the ability to truly live free.

We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to the staff at WISE who provide such a wonderful program to so many families. A special “Thank You” to Dr. Audie Woolley (Pediatric ENT), Canterbury Methodist Church and the folks at Children’s Hospital for making this program available for so many families who find themselves overwhelmed and in desperate need of these services.

James, Laura, Chandler & Kalin Sims