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June 14, 2004

Hearing-impaired twins swim in the mainstream

From: Taipei Times, Taiwan - Jun 14, 2004

By Caroline Hong
Monday, Jun 14, 2004,Page 2

When looking at Chang Wei-chung (張為中) and Chang Wei-hua (張為華), one notices two things: their identical gap-toothed smiles and the small, beige pieces of plastic behind their ears.

The two boys are severely hearing-impaired -- but to hear their happy chatter, one wouldn't be able to guess they are disabled. Thanks to auditory-verbal (AV) therapy that the children received from the Children's Hearing Foundation (雅文兒童聽語文教基金會), the twins are able to go to regular schools and participate fully in mainstream society.

"We are very grateful to the foundation for its help with the boys," said Chang Hsien-liang (張咸樑), the boys' father.

Chang and his wife found out that their children were severely hearing-impaired when the boys were three years old.

"We were a small family, and no one had ever seen anything like this before," he said, explaining why the children's disability was not recognized earlier.


"Most children begin to speak at around age one, but we realized that the twins weren't responding when we tried to get them to repeat 'dad' or 'mom,'" he said.

After being referred to the foundation by a hospital, the Changs found themselves feeling alternately hopeful and panic-stricken.

They learned that with AV therapy, children between three and six years old -- a crucial period for language acquisition -- have a good chance to learn to speak normally.

According the foundation, which is the first organization in Taiwan to offer the training, 500 to 600 Taiwanese children a year are born with hearing problems.

"Often, though, if the child has only slight problems, parents think that the child just isn't paying attention," said Grace Lin, an audiologist and the foundation's director of auditory management.

She explained that over 90 percent of hearing-impaired children have residual hearing that, along with training and hearing-aids, can help them learn to talk.

Even children without residual hearing have the potential to hear with the aid of electronic devices called cochlear implants.

top of their class

AV therapy combines modern teaching methods with hearing aids to help children make sense of input that they receive from their hearing aids -- and to help them form words.

"In comparison to lip-reading or sign language, AV therapy is the most popular form of communication being taught to hearing-impaired children nowadays because it encourages children to become part of the mainstream," Lin said.

The foundation doesn't encourage hearing-impaired children to enter regular schools before completing AV training, Lin said, because disabled children can easily become isolated from their teachers and peers. Once training has been completed, however, she said, the foundation finds that students do just as well in regular schools as other students.

The twins are a case in point. After completing AV training classes at the foundation, the twins became first-graders at Taipei's Tienmu Elementary School. Their grades are near the top of their class, their father said, and they have no problems interacting with other students.


Chang Hsien-liang has a habit of cupping his right hand over his mouth as he speaks, with his chin pointed slightly downward in the direction of an oblong FM unit hanging around his neck. The unit, he explains, allows Wei-chung and Wei-hua to pick up the sound of his voice through a microphone. The listening system transmits a signal directly to the person wearing the hearing aid and is helpful when there is a lot of background noise or a significant distance between the speaker and the listener -- situations in which understanding is typically difficult for hearing-impaired people.

The foundation tries to encourage teachers to use the FM listening systems if they have deaf students in their classes.

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