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September 27, 2004

Foster City hearing center celebrates 20th anniversary

From: San Mateo County Times, CA - Sep 27, 2004

By Malaika Fraley, STAFF WRITER

FOSTER CITY - CLEESE RELIHAN is your typical 19-year-old.

He attends college, has a job, loves parties and is glued to his cell phone. What many people don't know is that Relihan, who talks like any other teen, was born with profound hearing loss.

Relihan attributes his ability to listen and speak to Foster City's SoundWave Center for Hearing Impaired Children, which celebrated its 20th anniversary with a fund-raiser/luncheon on Saturday. "It's given me the opportunity to do whatever I want to do," Relihan said.

"Sometimes people tell me they aren't aware of my hearing loss until I bring it up," said Relihan, a Menlo Park resident. "It makes me feel good when they say this."

Formerly known as the Phoenix Education Center, SoundWave Center specializes in Auditory-Verbal Therapy, a trademarked method of teaching speech and listening to young children who use hearing aids or cochlear implants.

One of only two such centers in Northern California, and the only nonprofit one, the center works with children as young as 10 days old and leads them through a process whose goal is to give them a life like any normal-hearing child.

"We work with audiologists, implant teams, schools, day-cares, parents -- it's a team approach," said Victoria Deasy, founder and director of SoundWave Center.

"Ninety to 93 percent of children with hearing loss are born into hearing families, who don't use sign language at home and had plans to send their child to a regular school and live a normal life," Deasy said.

"We can tell them, for the most part, 'You can start making those plans.'" Parents are an integral part of the therapy, which calls for exercises and techniques outside of therapy sessions, something that attracted Jill and Brian Coffman to SoundWave Center when their 3-year-old daughter, Helen, was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss at age 2.

"Auditory-Verbal Therapy keeps children in the most normal setting possible. Our objective is to get her in a mainstream school and require minimum assistance in the classroom," Brian Coffman said. "She's gaining the ability to communicate with everyone. She'll be able to walk out the front door and talk to a neighbor, whereas, with sign language, she would only be able to communicate with people who sign." "It's a method of therapy that fits into your life," Jill Coffman said.

The Coffmans, who live in San Mateo, said they are lucky to live so close to a center like SoundWave, when other families drive from as far as Ukiah to attend therapy sessions. Deasy said there's a great need for more certified Auditory-Verbal Therapists.

Right now, there are only about 200 in the world, she said. Her center is among those trying to recruit more -- good candidates are people who already teach the deaf, or audiologists and speech pathologists.

For more information on Auditory-Verbal Therapy, visit

2004 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers