Six years ago this month, Mary and I (Cara) sat around a table at our then-favorite eating establishment and met with the leadership of Beginnings, Inc. from North Carolina. Fast-forward to now where Mary and I have provided individualized, in-person education and guidance to 165 families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH) and have conducted hearing screenings on more than 2,700 children across the state of SC.  To be honest, we (Mary and I) didn’t exactly plan on getting into conducting hearing screenings, but being able to fill this previously unmet need has increased Beginnings SC’s ability to impact the lives of children and helped define the essential components in making a positive impact for children who are deaf and hard of hearing and their families.

Introducing….the Beginnings SC Model.  It is a best-practice model based on national recommendations and it is what we infuse–past, present, and future–in all of our programs.  Identification and Connection with resources must be coupled with Parent education and support and best-practice interventions for the Child who is deaf or hard of hearing; each component cannot subsist without the totality of the Essential Three components.

More detailed blog posts are forthcoming, but here is a brief overview of the Essential Three components:

Identification and Connection:  It is expected that 1-3/1000 infants will be born with a hearing loss.  That prevalence rate increases to 6/1000 by the time a child enters kindergarten (This is not including the multitude of children who have large gaps in listening to learn language during ear infections!).  If one includes all children up to age 21 with hearing loss, it is 9-10/1000, or ~1/100.  In SC, our population of children averages around 1.2 million.  So it can be estimated that up to 12,000 children in SC have a permanent sensorineural and/or conductive hearing loss.  While not the only way to identify a child who has a hearing loss, the 2016-17 Child Count Data from the SC Department of Education Office of Special Education Services (age 3-21) indicates there are 1,070 children with Deaf/Hard of Hearing (DHH) listed as their primary disability on their IEP.  Increased identification is critical to the success of these kids.  With Identification also comes the need for Connection between that child and professionals with specialized expertise to begin interventions, as well as Connection with high-quality resources.

In tandem with Identification and Connection, Parents need education and support and the Child who is DHH needs best-practice interventions.  It is common to understand that after identification, the Child would need resources; a “village” of professionals with the expertise in working with DHH children, individualized plans to identify language and vocabulary delays, and a group effort to target closing those gaps.  Hearing loss is a diagnosis that automatically qualifies a child between birth-3 to receive Early Intervention services from BabyNet (SC’s Part C program) because hearing loss–without appropriate interventions–impairs language acquisition so severely that many will not read above a 4th grade reading level. It’s a different process once a child turns 3, but a knowledgeable evaluation team can properly assess the language levels of a DHH Child and ensure optimum progress is occurring.

What is often overlooked–even by Parents of children with a hearing loss–is the education about hearing loss and the individualized guidance that each family should have.  Most parents of a child with a hearing loss admit they never even thought about hearing loss before their child.  Parenting takes lots of work for any kid; there’s lots of extra “stuff” that parents of children who are DHH have to quickly learn in order for their child to have optimal language development.  Parents–and really the entire family– need to know about hearing loss, understand an audiogram, and understand how their child’s hearing loss impacts their child.  Parents need to know that there are many ways that a child and family can communicate–American Sign Language, Listening and Spoken Language, Signed Supported Speech, Listening and Spoken Language supported with Cued Speech, or a combination.  Parents need to know their educational rights, identify opportunities in the community for support, meet Deaf and hard of hearing adults, and interact with other parents who also have DHH children. Parents don’t know what they’ve never experienced, and I’ve met so many parents that are fast-learners who still struggle to locate the resources their child needs.

So this is just an overview of the Essential Three components that are the foundation of all of the programs at Beginnings SC. Whether it is screening young ones in a Child Care program, providing trainings for early childhood professionals, providing parent guidance, or networking with the community, Identification and Connection must be tied with Parent and Child interventions and education as well. As my youngest child says, “More to come!”