Today, we returned to the Cen Cenai public preschool center (like HeadStart in the US) to continue our screenings for hearing, vision, cognition, speech, and language. Overall, we were able to screen about 75 children and provide appropriate recommendations for follow-up as needed. Conducting the hearing screenings was difficult, however, due to the incredibly noisy environment at the school. As I mentioned before, the walls are concrete and the floors are tile. Windows are left open for ventilation, and the room in which we were screening was right next to the children’s play area, which was partially enclosed, further echoing all of the noise. As such, it was difficult to hear the 25dB tones we presented via portable audiometer, and the OtoAcoustic Emissions (OAE) tester we brought would give false negatives due to background noise quite frequently. It was far from ideal, but we made it work and, hopefully, provided the children (and their parents and teachers) with valuable information that will help them reach their full potentials.
After the screenings, as we (students) were discussing the day’s activities, we contemplated the future for these children. Was it enough that we screened them and provided referrals? What if they never received necessary follow-up? What if their families could not afford any treatment that might be needed following further evaluation? When a family is struggling to get food on the table, how on earth can they think about hearing aids and glasses which, though not necessary to survive, are very necessary for these children to THRIVE. These are difficult questions to ponder. Here’s how I think about it: We are only responsible for what we can control. I cannot take these children home with me, feed them, and give them the best education money can buy. I just can’t. My domain of responsibility is to provide screenings, and while these children are in my care, to provide the best level of service I possibly can, and to make them feel as loved and special and precious as possible. It’s all I can do, and if I do it my best, that’s success in my mind. Still, it’s tough, and I hope that these children receive all that they need to reach their potential.
The screenings took so long (we had parents bring younger siblings in off the street during pick up time – they just kept coming, and how could we refuse?), the volcano trip was out for today. Instead, we stopped for a quick lunch and shopping, and before we knew it, evenign came and it was time to head back to Kinder Papillon for their parent support group meeting. About twelve family members attended the meeting (a pretty large percentage of the parents, given the small population of children with hearing loss in the school) to hear a representative speak about FM systems. It seems that Phonak and Oticon are the primary brands (of both HAs and FMs) in Costa Rica. I have decided to re-name the schools in Costa Rica “Acoustic Nightmare” (said lovingly, of course, I realize why the schools are designed the way they are – but that doesn’t mean I have to like them!) so I can see how FM systems, soundfields, or other amplification devices would be incredibly helpful to a student with hearing loss in a mainstream classroom. In addition, class sizes in Costa Rica are larger than the average US class, with 30+ students, further adding to the noise and distraction. The presenter was wonderful. He explained FM systems in family-friendly language, and emphasized that best fit for the child/family and best technology were more important than brand or manufacturer.
After the presentation, the parents had time to meet and chat, and it was wonderful to see them making connections, sharing advice, and bonding over their experiences helping their children with hearing loss learn to listen and speak. During the conversation portion, some of the children who had attended with their parents decided it was time to play, and I was more than happy to chat away with them – mostly comparing boo-boos and trying to scare each other by hiding behind a door. When it was time to go, I picked up my bag – a mini yellow Cochlear™ back pack, and one little boy, who had just had his imlant activated a month earlier, grabbed my hand. His face lit up as he pointed to the Cochlear™ logo on my bag, then quickly brushed his hair out of the way to show me his very own Cochlear device. It was a priceless “hearing moment” that I will never forget. Another “hearing moment” happened out in the school’s parking lot. One little boy’s mother was calling his name, and he was not responding. All of the sudden, all five of us Deaf Ed/SLP graduate students turned to the boy, pointed to our ears, and simultaneously, and unplanned, said, “Listen!” We’re always ready to work on those listening skills!