IM this article to a friend!

June 9, 2004

School offers spoken programs for deaf children

From: Newsday - Long Island,NY,USA - Jun 9, 2004

Preschoolers at 2 schools rely on their cochlear implants, not lip reading or signing, for classroom lessons

By John Hildebrand
Staff Writer

June 9, 2004

Even with children's backpacks properly stowed, Diane Cusker and her co-workers cannot begin the school day without taking one more indispensable step: hooking up the lightweight FM receivers that will allow preschoolers to distinctly hear their teacher's voice.

Cusker teaches at Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf, which yesterday marked its first year of offering a class for 3- to 5-year-olds solely in spoken English, without reliance on sign language and lip reading, which remain staples in other classes. Oral-auditory instruction is growing in use among deaf children nationwide, thanks to cochlear implants that use electrodes to transmit sounds to the brain.

Preschool classes can be noisy, and Cusker's class of eight children and three adults is no exception. The difference here is that some youngsters have only heard sounds within the past year or so, thanks to their new implants, and noise still comes as a jarring, if welcome, surprise.

"I love it when they say 'Oww!' and cover their ears," said Kristin Roselli-Steinmetz, who works with Cusker as a teacher assistant.

Later in the day, some students helped present an award to visiting officers of the Ned J. Giordano Foundation, a Long Island-based group that provides money for children's services, including the class itself.

Cochlear implants have been around for nearly 20 years, but they are being used with younger and younger children, infants included. In this country, approximately 13,000 adults and 10,000 children now have implants, though some in the deaf community contend their use detracts from the use of sign language, which they consider essential to deaf culture.

At the Cleary School for the Deaf, located in Nesconset, the increase in youngsters using implants prompted the opening of an auditory/oral preschool program last year. The school now enrolls 14 students with implants. Like the Mill Neck school, which is located in Oyster Bay, the Cleary school is privately run and state-funded.

"I've been working here 35 years, and I've never seen some of the things these children do," said Sister Catherine Fitzgibbon, Cleary's superintendent.

To help youngsters get used to listening for instructions rather than reading lips, teachers often cover their mouths with their hands while speaking. Let a preschooler with a new implant respond to, say, a musical recording in class for the first time, and this can become a cause for celebration.

"Good boy, Gio!" said Cusker. She was praising one of her students, Giovanni Ronghi, 3, of Glen Cove, who had just repeated the word that the teacher had spoken from behind a card held over her mouth.

Giovanni's grandmother, Marianne Artinian, who works at Mill Neck as an administrative assistant, is equally impressed. "I witness miracles day in and day out," she said.

Copyright © 2004, Newsday, Inc.