Each year, three of every 1,000 newborns in Texas are diagnosed with hearing loss, according to 2019 data from the Texas State Department of Health Services. Yet the follow-up rate for newborns who fail their initial hearing test is only fifty-one percent, says Lee Rech, executive director of All Ears! Listening and Language Center, a non-profit that works with families of deaf and hard of hearing children to develop listening, spoken language and literacy skills.
All Ears! is the only organization of its kind in the Montgomery County area, says Lee,
combining the features of an auditory therapy center with a mainstream pre-school program in which deaf children learn to listen and speak alongside their hearing peers.
Now, through a new program which began just last month, All Ears! is partnering with Memorial Hermann–The Woodlands Hospital to advocate, offer information, and provide the opportunity for critical follow-up care to hearing impaired children, starting at the infant stage. It’s a groundbreaking collaboration, the first of its kind in The Woodlands area.
Lee says a special pediatric audiology suite has been placed within the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Memorial Hermann, consisting of an audiology sound booth and equipment to assess hearing function. The suite enables more effective delivery of proper care at the time of the failed hearing screen test, says Lee, and the opportunity for a better connection with the family, since planning can start right away.
Elizabeth Kutchback, a registered nurse in Memorial Hermann’s neonatal unit, says that after a failed screening, “It is important to provide all NICU infants with a book to encourage a parent reading program, support the parent-infant relationship through holding, reading, and singing, paired with positive touch times. With the increased use of technology, specifically phones and tablets, we like to support the importance of limiting the use of electronics and encourage talking and remind parents of AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) guidelines about screen time and the impact of basic speech and play for infant and toddler development,” states Elizabeth.
The mission of All Ears! is to bridge the gap, giving infants and all children the services they
need to thrive, says Lee. The programs offered by All Ears! are led by master’s level educators and speech language pathologists, all of whom have an additional three years of specialized training in spoken language development and pediatric hearing loss, says Lee.
The centers provides Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) Intervention for infants and
toddlers, an LSL education program for children 18 months and older, and a full inclusion
program through a partnership with an early learning program at a local school, where children with hearing loss put the LSL programs into action as they learn alongside their hearing peers. It’s a personal mission for Lee, whose daughter was born
deaf and grew up learning to navigate the world through the LSL approach.
Melissa Gary’s daughter Merritt joined the All Ears! program when she was just an infant. “At
10 days old, Merritt was formally identified with bilateral moderate hearing loss. At her
audiologist visit, I was introduced to our speech-language pathologist, Allison Haggerty, who specializes in teaching children with hearing loss to listen and talk. After learning about all our
options, we decided on early intervention of auditory verbal language and made the decision to fit Merritt with hearing aids so she could make the most of her remaining hearing ability to
support the development of spoken language. Throughout the intervention, our audiologist and speech-language pathologist collaborated continuously to ensure Merritt had auditory access to support spoken language development so Merritt would not fall behind socially, or academically. Had we not had an audiologist and listening and spoken language specialist to guide us through these first years of Merritt's life, I highly doubt she would be as successful in her communication abilities to support the academic success that she continues to demonstrate,” says Melissa.
Through the new partnership with Memorial Hermann Hospital, says Lee, many more families
will get the help they need, providing children with an effective path forward. The collaboration speaks volumes about the community’s commitment to provide more opportunities to help all of our children to become successful. “Children who are deaf or hard of hearing can reach their full potential and have beautiful speech, if we get them started early,” says Lee.