Cara and I never thought we would be performing hearing screenings for children when setting out to start a program for parent education, but getting into the process has been fun, energizing, and eye-opening. With the help of some amazing volunteers, I have performed almost two thousand (yes, you read that right!) screenings since September of 2015.
Some of the things I have learned are highlighted below.
My arrival to a center for the first time is always one that elicits feelings of excitement and nervous anticipation – unsure of how the children will engage and if staff will be displeased by my coming into their classroom and disrupting their typical day’s’ activities. But as soon as I step into the first room and sit on the floor with my box of supplies, I no longer have any uncertainty how it is going to go. The children quickly gather around and ask questions about my big box, or ask my name, or they try to sit in my lap, or show me their favorite toys. I have always had a way with children and most have almost always taken to me quickly, and I am thankful that skill continues to prove true. In each classroom I take a few minutes to greet the teachers and children and find a place on the floor or a table that is comfy both for myself and for the children. I ask their names and hold their toys; sometimes I read a quick book or roll a car around on the floor. Then I open my box and bring out my “special computer that plays the *strangest* music!” and they all look on wide-eyed. I continue to be surprised by even the smallest children who watch and listen and excitedly sit and wait for their turn. Many try to sit in my lap repeatedly while I am screening their friends – they just can’t wait for their turn! My love of children and the vivacious and curious three I have at home have helped me develop the skill of helping/talking to one while having others all around! “The more the merrier,” I often tell the teachers as they try to corral the curious onlookers awaiting their turn. The excitement usually means I will have great luck in screening all of the children in a class.
Because the process is so quick and easy (as you can see below in the video) I can complete a classroom of about 15 children in less than 30 minutes. I test one ear at a time and ask questions like, “Do you hear the birds? Does it sound like they are playing a piano?! Have you ever seen such a thing?!?” They giggle at the idea of such absurdity and then invite their friends to go next. Inevitably, there are children who are unsure and, at times, afraid, but I always encourage them to come look and help me push the buttons. Almost every time, they will ask for a turn and sit quietly while I check each ear. They give me a proud high-five and agree when I tell them how brave they were. The staff are so helpful and encouraging, as well. I have yet to be greeted with anything other than excitement and warmth from almost every single staff person in all the centers I have visited. They ask brilliant questions and then help me explain the answers to the children who are watching. They are curious about the technology and ask why I got into the business of screening children for hearing loss. They are nearly always astounded when I tell them we estimate 10,000 children in SC schools have hearing loss but aren’t identified. They often stand with mouths agape and then say, “We are so thankful you are here!” Every single teacher has had at least one student they have wondered or worried about. They have, at times, had their fears confirmed and at other times, been given reassurance. But every time, they have been offered information and ideas, resources and/or encouragement.
Screening the sleeping children may be my favorite time. Not only do I have the opportunity to soak in their peaceful, worryless sleep, which is calming and comforting to anyone, but I also get to show teachers how quick and easy the process is. For all the teachers who welcome me into their busy, active classrooms, there are just as many who give a kind, but doubtful side-glance when I come into their finally-quiet nap room with a big box and clipboard. Once I assure them my goal is to NOT wake anyone, and I am successful with the first, their confidence in my plan is renewed and they help me move from place to place; often even turning a sleeping head or patting a slightly-stirring back if need be.
While performing hearing screenings was not what we envisioned, we have referred more than 250 children on to their Pediatrician or an Audiologist to receive more information about serious issues that could have or were preventing their access to language. We know that language is fundamental to growth, development, success, and happiness and we know that the work we have done to identify children in South Carolina who may have remained invisible is invaluable. So while we didn’t set out to sit on floors with small computers and curious children, we sure are glad we’ve had the chance. And we can’t wait to tell you all the amazing stories we see and hear in the process. Thank you for helping us continue to make it visible.