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May 19, 2004

Choosing a method of communication

From: Green Bay News Chronicle - Green Bay,WI,USA - May 19, 2004

Group's new chapter helps deaf children, parents

By Anna Krejci
An organization new to Wisconsin is helping parents with children who are deaf or hard of hearing choose the best way of communication for their child.

Wisconsin Families for Hands & Voices president and Green Bay area resident, Molly Martzke, said the organization is special in that it does not promote one particular method of communication over another. It provides parents with information on the various options for communication for deaf individuals, such as sign language, oral communication, or in her 6-year-old son's case, communication with the help of a cochlear implant.

"When we found out he was deaf, there was this whole world we had to find out about," she said.

She said it helped her oldest son, who is now 6, transition from mostly using sign language to communicating almost all of the time with the implant.

"The sign language is more of a support for him," she said.

The new organization serves as a support group for families and as an advocate for the deaf or hard of hearing. In Madison today, Wisconsin Families for Hands & Voices is hosting a breakfast for state legislators. Audiologists and others in the health profession will address the significance of newborn hearing screening and obstacles family face without state mandated hearing screenings or insurance coverage for hearing aids, cochlear implants or hearing aid molds.

According to a 1998 paper produced by the Wisconsin Association for Perinatal Care, 200 to 400 babies born each year have a hearing impairment. The hearing impairments sometimes are linked to risk factors, such as low birth weight, exposure to drugs toxic to the ear, neonatal infections and genetic infections, but more than half of the cases arose in babies who did not have any of the risk factors.

Martzke said her first son would have benefited from a hearing screening when he was born. His lack of hearing was not diagnosed until he was 10 months old. For nearly the first year of his life, Martzke said she believed she was communicating with her son and he was getting exposure to language that in reality he was not getting.

He wasn't responding like he should when his back was turned to his parents. Her son was 4 1/2 years old by the time he caught up to the language abilities of other kids his age, Martzke said.

Now, "he scores better than his peers on many language tests," she said, and her son is starting to read his favorite book, "One Fish, Two Fish" by Dr. Suess.

Wisconsin Families for Hands & Voices is part of a national, parent-run organization, Families for Hands & Voices. Chapters have formed in other states, including Colorado, Idaho, Michigan and New Mexico.

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