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May 27, 2003

NONPROFIT PROFILE: Institute opens world to hearing-impaired youths

From: Kansas City Star, MO - May 27, 2003

By SU BACON Special to The Star


That is what Amos Meek said to older brother Isaac when he wanted another Popsicle about three years ago.

His mother, Ruth Ann Meek of Independence, remembers the excitement she felt when she heard Amos speak.

"It was his first really clear word," she said.

Amos was 3 years old at the time. What makes his first word especially memorable for his mother is that Amos is deaf.

He was diagnosed at 10 months of age with a severe to profound hearing loss. Now 6, Amos has been attending St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf-Kansas City for four years. The school helps children who are hearing-impaired learn to listen and speak.

"Most deaf have some degree of hearing," said Ruth Mathers, the institute's program director. "We teach them to use the residual hearing that they have."

The children at the school use either high-powered hearing aids or cochlear implants. When he started attending the institute, Amos wore hearing aids in both ears. When he was 41/2 years old, he had a cochlear implant in one ear.

"Before the implant, I was counting the new words he used," Meek said. "After the implant, he progressed so quickly I quit counting."

Those who are fitted with cochlear implants tend to have a normal auditory nerve but damage to the cochlea in the inner ear. The implant, a computerized device, allows individuals to hear because it bypasses the damaged cochlea and stimulates the auditory nerve directly.

Now Amos speaks mostly in sentences, he can tell a story, he orders for himself when the family eats out, he interacts with other children, and he plays on a soccer team, his mother said.

Meek credits the implant and the institute with giving her youngest son "the gift of speech."

Located in Overland Park, the institute is a private, nonprofit organization that serves children from birth through first grade. It opened in 1994 as a satellite school of the St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis.

The St. Louis school was founded in 1837 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Their mission was to provide children who are profoundly hearing-impaired with the opportunity for mainstream education and independent adult lives.

Because the children who attend the institute come with varying degrees of language, instruction is customized to each individual. The 20 students currently enrolled are taught by licensed speech-language pathologists and certified teachers of the deaf.

To observers, the classroom and activities appear to be no different from other educational settings.

"At the school, you see kids playing with each other, speaking to each other," said Amy Ackerson, a certified public accountant who serves on the institute's board of directors. "The kids are getting a chance to live a normal life."

The institute is funded by foundations, local grants, tuition and its own fund-raising efforts. Scholarships help pay tuition for some.

"We don't turn any child away," Mathers said.

For information

St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf-Kansas City 8800 Grant Ave.

Overland Park, KS 66212

(913) 383-3535