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February 15, 2003

New preschool teaches oral education to deaf students

From:, MA - 15 Feb 2003

By Associated Press

NEW GLOUCESTER, Maine (AP) Courtney Camire is 6. But her hearing sense, says her mother, is younger.

That's because the Biddeford girl, who is deaf, two years ago got a cochlear implant, a device that enables her to hear sound.

But because Courtney had never heard speech before the implant, she needs training to both understand and pronounce words. She's learning to do that at a new preschool designed to help deaf and hard-of-hearing children listen and speak.

Courtney is one of nine students at hear ME now!, Maine's first oral deaf education school and one of only about 40 such schools in the country. Whereas other schools, like the Baxter School for the Deaf in Falmouth, emphasize learning sign language, hear ME now! focuses on honing kids' ability to communicate orally.

''We're bathing them in language,'' said George Krohne, executive director of the school.

For Debbie Camire, it's music to her ears when she hears her daughter say things like ''I want that'' when they are in a store. Courtney previously communicated through American Sign Language.

''It's the clearest sentence in the world,'' she said.

The nonprofit hear ME now! school is located at Pineland Farms and has been open for about five weeks.

With the help of new technology such as modern hearing aids and cochlear implants surgically implanted devices that stimulate nerves in the inner ear more and more deaf and hard-of-hearing children are able hear spoken language for the first time. But even with the devices, children need help in deciphering what they're hearing.

Hearing impairments in newborns often are not detected until months or even a year or two have passed. By the time a diagnosis is made, the child has missed out on the exposure to spoken language that most children get before they start speaking themselves. Such exposure stimulates language centers in the brain, Krohne said.

Governor Baxter School for the Deaf in Falmouth, the state school for the deaf which serves about 15 percent of the Maine's approximately 500 hearing-impaired children, has a preschool too.

Two days a week, students learn to communicate through sign language and learn to read and write English. On alternate days, the school offers a ''Sound and Sign'' class, in which children are exposed to language through spoken English as well as sign language, said Larry Taub, the school's superintendent.

But the focus of Baxter is on American Sign Language.

Parents of children with hearing aids or cochlear implants have complained for years that they have had to find private speech therapists or go out of state for programs that provide their children with the kind of intensive oral training that the hear ME now! preschool is now providing.

Krohne said the school doesn't cost the families anything because of scholarships provided by the Oberkotter Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia that advocates oral deaf education.

© 2003 The New York Times Company