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July 18, 2003

Hearing-impaired children get summer camp of their own

From: Louisville Courier Journal, KY - Jul 18, 2003

The Courier-Journal

A year ago Katie Shaughnessy, 24, was entering her third year as a doctoral student in audiology at the University of Louisville.

That would be enough to occupy most people, but Shaughnessy also was embarking on a project that would take her the entire year — starting the first Louisville camp for hearing-impaired children and serving as its student leader.

She spent the period doing research, planning activities and conducting meetings twice a month. That preparation bore fruit Monday when Shaughnessy — along with her committee and camp counselors, all of them audiology doctoral students — started the weeklong Hear Here camp.

"To have the kids come up to me and say this is the best camp they've ever been to makes everything we've worked for worthwhile," she said. "It's amazing to see these kids interact with each other."

The camp, held on the University of Louisville's Shelby Campus, drew nine children ages 4 to 9. All except Joey Knapper, 5, wear hearing aids. Joey has a surgically inserted hearing device called a cochlear implant.

Some had been diagnosed with hearing loss when they were as young as 2 months, and some were just diagnosed within the last month.

Dr. Mary Beth Brinson, a pediatric audiologist and director of the camp, said most children with hearing impairments are thrown into mainstream schools and are made to feel like outsiders. "The one thing that sets them apart from their peers there, they have in common here," she said.

Katelyn Slinskey, 7, said she is learning a lot about hearing aids at the camp and is happy to be around people who understand her situation. "You have another person to play with that is like you," she said.

Each day was based on a theme such as "jungle" or "water." The activities included crafts, music, sports, games and reading. All activities in the camp were associated with sound or hearing in some way — even food s were picked based on the sounds they make when chewed.

Each day the counselors gave the children suggestions on how to deal with their hearing device — from when not to wear it to how to explain it to people who ask questions.

Brinson said the camp is trying to show the children how to communicate with people other than by touching — the form most hearing-impaired children rely on.

"We're trying to build up their vocabulary as well," she said.

Shaughnessy said parents of the children are so happy with the camp that they asked that the three-hour sessions be extended on some of the days.

Brinson said the costs of hearing devices and care for hearing conditions never seem to stop for many families. Hearing aids cost from $1,000 to $4,000.

Cochlear implants cost about $25,000. Speech therapy and occupational therapy run about $75 an hour. And then there are special household needs — including louder doorbells and fire detectors.

The camp fee is $75, but that was waived for parents who could not afford it.

Meijer donated $40 worth of gift certificates to the camp, and Paint Spot, Feeders Supply Co. and the Louisville Zoo contributed services or materials.

Brinson said there are plans to make the camp an annual event, but recruiting children with hearing impairments is challenging. "We hope to get more community support," she said. "It's hard to get the word out."

Today is the last day for this year's camp. Shaughnessy said she would like to take part in the camp again, but for now she is happy with the present.

"It puts a smile on your face and warms your heart to see the kids every day," she said.

Copyright 2002 The Courier-Journal.