"Look for the Helpers"

A teleintervention session in progress

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'" The wisdom Mr. Fred Rogers shared long ago with his PBS children viewers is well-manifested today. Sound Beginnings specialists are broadcasting children's tailor-made programming straight into the homes of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Says parent Traci Rainey, "they didn’t miss a beat" in moving intervention from the classroom to her home when the coronavirus health concerns led to school closures.

Teacher of the deaf LeaAnn Ross posted a video to instruct handwashing skills for her small preschool class. She commented to colleagues that she had taken a lesson from Mr. Rogers to target a public health issue by preparing children with knowledge. This was just one of the many quick instructional responses that she and other teachers of the deaf made available in the program.

A teleintervention session in progress

Families responded to Sound Beginnings outreach efforts with more engaged participation in their children’s intervention. Speech-language pathologist Jeanette Smoot cheered that many more fathers were attending therapy sessions due to their increased time at home. With siblings also roaming in the mix, online sessions often become a whole-family affair. “That’s OK,” says director Nicole Jacobson. “Our services are meant to be family-centered. Siblings often support a child’s language and social development in ways no one else can. We want to foster a child’s ability to communicate with the people that matter most. That’s the family—the whole family.”

Though swift to implement for families, the service delivery changes took some concerted effort. That is all paying off with some positive perks that Kaytie Cook noted of her kindergartners, whom she now teaches in small group and individual sessions. “Transitioning to online services has come with an understandable amount of initial worry and some stress,” she acknowledged. “However, as an educator I see so many benefits coming in. I am now able to have more one-on-one time with each student, something that was uneasy to schedule in our group settings. Lesson plans are more individually tailored and I’m able to adapt curriculum needs in a way never done before. I see my students easily making language connections from our sessions to their home settings and their desire to share things with their families. The purpose of early intervention is to help our students have meaningful language in all settings, especially with their families at home. This platform is prioritizing a home language connection that is amazing.”

Sound Beginnings is no stranger to tele-intervention. Because the listening and spoken language approach focuses on coaching parents to be their children’s foremost therapists, tele-intervention has long stood as a service modeled at USU with excellent outcomes. Early Interventionist Lauren Smith shared her confidence in turning to this experienced tool now for all of the families she serves. “When I first heard that schools were going to close in order to stop the spread of coronavirus, I was comforted to know that our school has already been providing tele-intervention services to children with hearing loss and their families over the past 10 years. I, myself, provided teleintervention services for early intervention and school-aged children during the previous school year.”

A teleintervention session in progress

Lamenting the stress that program families are facing, Smith voiced the program’s responsive dedication. “Although I have provided tele-intervention before, this is anything but business as usual for our [Sound Beginnings] families. Their needs are going to continue to evolve, and we are ready to use our experience and an openness to try new things to help support our students and their families. Our goal as a school has always been to empower children with hearing loss and the best way to do that is to empower their parents. Our ongoing relationships with our student’s parents are a pivotal part of the intervention we provide. Now, more than ever, we are leaning on that partnership so that our students can continue developing new strengths and abilities.”

That message is not missed on families. Traci Rainey, parent of two children in the program who are hard of hearing, gratefully praised her children’s intervention team at Sound Beginnings. “I’m so impressed with the amazing care that the teachers have shown my kids and how fast they moved everything to online. There was no break at all in the teaching they gave and my kids just love talking with their teachers about everything at home.” Though the impact of public health concerns has been a “hard transition for everyone,” she also pointed out some important skills that her kindergarten daughter acquires with online instruction. “It’s harder, but good. This is the way of the world, now, with technology, and it’s good to see her pushing all the buttons herself and learning good computer skills.”

No one foresaw the dramatic public health concerns that impact our day. No one quite knows how long the resulting challenges will last. But Mr. Rogers called it; when troubles come, you will always find The Helpers, prepared and ready to take on the day.

For more information about the Sound Beginnings program or regarding tele-intervention services for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to learn spoken language, please contact Nicole Jacobson via email or at 435-797-9235.

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