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October 10, 2003

Colfax Girl Hears Despite Deafness

From: Frankfort Times, IN - Oct 10, 2003


Three-year-old Olivia Rose Allen is playing intently with her toys — a kid-sized shopping cart, stuffed dolls and a miniature John Deere tractor. All at once, she stops and looks toward her mother, who has just called her name.

For Colfax residents Darla and Randy Allen, their daughter’s response is a minor miracle.

Olivia is totally deaf but, thanks to medical technology and a host of health professionals provided by the Clinton County-based First Steps, she can hear.

About three weeks before Olivia was born in Lafayette Home Hospital, it mandated an auditory screening test for all newborns. Olivia, born July 17, 2000, was the first baby diagnosed there.

Later, doctors at Riley Hospital for Children determined she was a good candidate for a cochlear implant. So, at the age of 11 months, Olivia underwent surgery to implant a metal plate in her head.

“Then six days after she was a year old, it (the implant) was turned on,” said her mother, “and that’s when she heard for the first time. At first she had this weird look, but just a tiny bit more (frequency) and she was freaking out.

“Everything had been quiet her whole life, and all of a sudden everything was so loud she couldn’t stand it.”

Since then, numerous adjustments to Olivia’s cochlear implant have been made as her tolerance to frequency levels increases. Today, she can hear as well, if not better, than her mother, Darla said.

A cochlear implant stimulates electrodes implanted in the cochlea and bypasses the ear. The electrodes reestablish signals to the brain carried by auditory nerve fibers. Wires from a magnetized microphone, held in place by the metal implant, are connected to a sound processor about the size of a palm-held radio, which Olivia wears in a small backpack.

“When the magnet’s not on her head, she doesn’t hear,” Darla said, pulling the device off Olivia’s head. “You take if off like this, and she hears nothing.”

Replacing the appliance to her daughter’s head, she explained, “But now she hears. She doesn’t hear anything through her ears. She hears right to her brain.”

Aided by First Steps

Shortly after Olivia was first tested, a nurse at St. Elizabeth Hospital, Lafayette, told the Allens about First Steps, the state-run early childhood intervention service.

“I found out how to get hold of them, and they were there fairly quickly to see what they could do,” Darla said.

The agency has been involved with the Allens since, said Amy Crawford, the Clinton County First Steps service coordinator.

“First Steps is a program that respects families and parents as experts on their child,” Crawford said. “An important point with First Steps is that it’s a voluntary program. So we do evaluations and we can make recommendations, but if the family doesn’t want it, for whatever reason, then that’s fine.”

Shortly after Darla contacted First Steps, it gave her a list (of First Steps providers) indicating their credentials and what they could do for her daughter. First Steps pays for almost everything up to age 3, Crawford said.

“Then it was up to me to decide which ones I was most comfortable with,” Darla said.

The first service provider referred by First Steps was Mary Hicks, a speech therapist.

“I started working with Olivia when she was 9 months old, said Hicks. “I started with sign language and she did really well. I worked with her until she started preschool, and she was saying whole sentences.”

First Steps also referred occupational and developmental therapists, an audiologist and a sign language teacher from the Indiana School for the Deaf.

When the school’s administrators refused to plan a teaching program accommodating Olivia’s special needs, Fresh Start introduced the Allens to St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf, Indianapolis. The private elementary school teaches hearing-impaired children, including those with cochlear implants. Olivia recently entered full-time preschool there.

“You can tell a difference more today than you could four weeks ago, when she started school full time,” said her dad, Randy, who also is hearing-impaired due to an accident he sustained at age 4. “She’s just exploded.”

The Allens feel that by the time Olivia is ready for kindergarten, she will need very little, if any, speech therapy.

Without First Steps’ assistance, Darla said, Olivia might have needed a tutor throughout her schooling.

First Steps success rate good

“First Steps’ success rate is something like 60-70 percent of all children who receive services, no longer need service after they turn 3,” said Mary Hicks.

Crawford agreed.

“From a program coordination standpoint, it’s interesting to me to see how quickly the names come off the list,” she said.

Crawford calls Olivia Allen “one of the best examples for what First Steps can do.

“It took a child with a life-changing situation and gave her all the benefits of being able to grow up in a normal situation,” she said. “We were not the sole provider, but I think the connections for her at the beginning allowed her to grow and change quickly.”

Darla, a stay-at-home mom, and Randy, who works for Suburu Indiana Automotive, and their other daughter, 12-year-old Brianna, are proud of Olivia.

Not only is she one of the youngest recipients of the cochlear implant, she tests high in intelligence, Darla said.

Still, they credit much of her success to the agency who stepped in first to help.

“If it wasn’t for First Steps,” Darla said, “God knows where she’d be.”

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