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August 23, 2004

Just like the other kids: Cochlear implant brings gift of hearing to local boy

From: Perry County Republic Monitor, Perryville, MO - Aug 23, 2004

by Kate Martin -

Yesterday marked a milestone for a local boy - and the local public school.

Five-year-old Matthew Klein, who suffers profound hearing loss, started kindergarten at Perryville Elementary School. Matthew has a cochlear implant which allows him to hear; he is the first such student at PES.

"This has been what I wanted for Matthew his whole life," said his mom Valerie. "I wanted him to experience life to the fullest and to be able to interact with other people and other children.

"It's like a dream come true for Matthew to start kindergarten on time and at home."

Matthew's preschool years were a challenge for the Kleins, who live in Perryville.

"Matthew attended school in St. Louis at the Moog Center for Deaf Education," Valerie said. "He graduated in July after attending school year-round since he was two.

"This is the first summer he's had to enjoy being a kid, and it's been wonderful."

It's also the first summer that didn't involve commuting Matthew to and from school each day.

"My husband Jeff works in St. Louis, so he brought Matthew home every day," Valerie said. "But we needed help to get him to school each morning."

And that's where Valerie and Jeff's family and friends came in.

"My father has been an absolute godsend," Valerie said. "He was Matthew's main chauffeur to the city each day. I could never describe what his devotion to Matthew has meant to me."

Valerie's parents are Valle (Pee Wee) and Alleen Janet of Perryville. Jeff's parents are Dick and Margie Klein of Ste. Genevieve.

"They've all been so supportive and helpful through the years," Valerie said. "And so has our daughter, Taylor, who is 8 and a half. She's given up a lot to make sure her brother gets what he needs. She is my best helper."

Matthew's school day at the Moog Center began at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m.

"That meant that Matthew had to be on the road each day by 6:30 a.m.," Valerie said. "He'd get home with Jeff about 5:30 p.m. It was a worry having my son on the highway like that each day, but it was positively the best thing we could have done for Matthew."

Valerie said that her pregnancy with Matthew and his delivery were normal.

"But when he was about five months old, I started to feel like something wasn't right," she said. "Comparing his reactions to Taylor's told me something might be off. I just didn't know what."

Valerie said June Moore of the local Parents As Teachers program at Perry County School District 32, helped solve the puzzle.

"She came in and did an evaluation and I could tell that she was uncomfortable with the results," Valerie recalled. "I remember walking her to the car while Jeff was inside screaming Matthew's name and Matthew wasn't reacting at all.

"It was terrifying."

The Kleins saw a doctor who recommended having tubes put in Matthew's ears to see if his hearing loss was caused by a fluid build-up. By the time their son was 8 months old, the Kleins knew he had profound hearing loss.

"They gave us a chart that showed how bad Matthew's hearing loss was," Valerie said, pointing to a line-drawing of an airplane. "This checkmark means that Matthew could sit by a jet engine and not hear it."

Valerie and Jeff didn't waste any time trying to find help for Matthew.

"We asked 'what can we do?' and got started," Valerie said. "When I heard about the cochlear implant, I started asking questions and researching it and we decided that this was the best option for our child."

When Matthew was 18 months old, he underwent surgery to install the cochlear implant.

"They shaved his head just behind his ear and inserted the implant," Valerie said. "It picks up messages from the microphone, which transmits sounds to a speech processor and back to Matthew's nerves, which produce the hearing sensation."

Valerie said she remembers watching Matthew's reaction when he first heard a sound.

"His eyes just lit up," she said. "It was an incredible moment."

Matthew's sister Taylor added, "We've worked so hard to teach him to talk and now he never quits talking."

Going to school

In addition to the implant, the Kleins arranged for Matthew to attend the Moog Center, which specializes in teaching deaf children to speak.

"On his first visit there, my dad was very upset," Valerie said. "He saw all the children running around talking and told me that it was very unfair of me to send Matthew to a school with hearing children. He didn't think Matthew had a chance.

"When I told him all those other children were also deaf, he was amazed. It gave us hope that Matthew would learn to talk, too."

Matthew is eager to tell about his experiences at the Moog Center.

"I liked my old school," he said. "My teacher was Becky and I had a lot of friends."

Director Jean Moog founded the Moog Center in 1996 with a group of experienced teachers and parents. The center, located in Town and Country, is staffed by teachers and audiologists and is committed to teaching deaf children to speak.

"Matthew had a very full day here," Moog said. "A typical day for Matthew started with his teacher Becky Durrell. The first thing we do every morning is check the children's hearing devices to make sure they are working properly.

"Then Matthew and one or two other students would have a conversational language period that might be show and tell or reading a book to stimulate conversation."

Then Matthew was off to the Discovery Room with a pre-kindergarten teacher for circle time and preschool activities.

"Matthew and his classmates then had very focused speech and audiology training, during which they would practice listening skills and improve speech production by talking with one another," Moog said.

Matthew's typical school day also included art lessons, food or craft lessons, recess, pre-math and pre-reading activities and syntax and vocabulary lessons.

"Deaf children need intense instruction to learn language that normal-hearing children learn just from being in the world," Moog said.

"That's something that Matthew has worked very hard at over the years. He's had a half-day of regular preschool here and then a half-day of intensive instruction in all the skills needed for learning spoken language."

Valerie said the school's motto sums up what it's like to suffer hearing loss.

"Their motto is 'Talk is cheap - unless you're deaf,'" Valerie said. "That is such a true statement."

Moog said the motto just came to her one day.

"I heard that old expression that talk is cheap and I thought, 'Sure, unless you can't hear' and I thought that sentence cut to the chase. It's a simple way of stating what we believe."

Moog said 85 percent of her students have cochlear implants like Matthew's.

"With the implant it is possible for profoundly deaf children like Matthew to hear," she said.

"Profound hearing loss like Matthew's is extremely rare. It's called a low-incidence handicap. Maybe one in 1,000 children will have hearing loss this severe."

Moog said Matthew's parents and his Parents As Teachers program deserve credit for getting him help so early.

"Matthew was diagnosed early and had his implant before he was two years old," Moog said, "which puts him in the best position for learning language and catching up with the other children his age.

"The fact that his parents moved quickly and got him the implant allowed him not only to learn to talk, but to talk very well. You don't notice that you're talking to a deaf child when you talk to Matthew."

Moog said that Matthew's success is being repeated more often as technology and teaching practices advance and adapt.

"We consider Matthew a success story because he started kindergarten with his class,' she said. "And our successes are becoming the rule. This year, eight of our students Matthew's age are going into mainstream classrooms. That makes us very proud."

Matthew hasn't cut all ties with the Moog Center. He will return to the center periodically to have his speech processor programmed for maximum access to sound.

An entourage from PES, including the district's special services coordinator Shelly Schnurbusch, visited Moog to help transition Matthew into a regular classroom.

"They were very accommodating," Schnurbusch said of the Moog staff. "Matthew is the first student we will serve with a cochlear implant. We needed to learn about that, and they taught us."

The Moog staff offered suggestions on helping Matthew in a regular classroom setting.

"It's little things that will bring big results for Matthew, like where he should sit in the room," Moog said. "The Perryville group watched how Becky modeled language for Matthew so he could understand her, and we always suggest that our students have a buddy assigned to help them with things they maybe didn't hear.

"Most of us hear out of the corner of our ears, but it's work for our students. And if they aren't paying close attention, they can miss things."

Moog said the PES group also met with audiologists to learn about Matthew's implant.

"They learned what could go wrong and how to fix it," she said.

Moog said that her staff is committed to making Matthew's transition to PES as easy as possible.

"We'll visit him later in the school year to see how he's doing in the mainstream classroom setting and see if he needs anything at all from us," she said.

"We like that not just because it helps the child, but because it helps us know how to better prepare our future students for classrooms."

Valerie said the Moog Center has given Matthew the opportunity to start school on a level playing ground with other children his age.

"He's excited about going to his new school and he's looking forward to having friends who live in the same town he does. He never got to have a sleepover with his school friends because he lives so far from them."

Matthew's bright eyes and eager smile give a hint at his intelligence, which is confirmed when he takes off his cochlear implant to play on a trampoline at a back-to-school event.

"Can I get on the ride again?" he asks his mother. He turned his head so he couldn't read her lips when she said "no" - and proceeded to ride again.

"He's so happy," Valerie said. "This means so much to me to see him out here with his classmates. He has such a bright future ahead of him.

"I can't say enough good things about District 32 and how they've helped get Matthew ready for kindergarten. I think it's going to be a great year."

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