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Preschool for Children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing

​​​Between his 123’s and ABC’s, 6-y​ear-old Jackson is learning something different from the other children in his preschool class. He’s learning how to hear and communicate with his peers.

The energetic, red-headed boy is a double-cochlear implant recipient. The sounds he’s learning today are preparing him for the classroom tomorrow, and his young friends are helping him along the way.

“It’s wonderful watching them grow up and progress through all the different developmental stages,” said Kristy Mixan, Deaf Educator and Counselor at the Boys Town National Research Hospital preschool. Her classroom is a mix of hearing and hard of hearing students who are learning and growing together. “Our hope is that Jackson’s peers are going to impact him and help him learn, but it doesn’t happen without a lot of adult facilitation and help.”

Boys Town National Research Hospital’s preschool program is a comprehensive program focused on empowering deaf and hard of hearing children to reach their full potential. Serving children since the late 1970s, its goal is to educate children to help them transition into a kindergarten placement with age appropriate skills in every developmental area.

“It’s academics, but it’s also social and emotional – it’s the whole picture,” said Mixan.

Today, Jackson and the other children in the Hospital’s preschool aren’t the only hard of hearing children benefitting from this program. A new pilot program is taking Boys Town audiologists and communication specialists into preschool classrooms across the U.S. Thanks to video conference technology, teachers can tune in to the Boys Town Hospital preschool program, observe and review teaching techniques, all while getting the expert training they need to implement them.

“We use the preschool room as a coaching site,” said Cathy Carotta, Ed.D.​, Associate Director of the Lied Learning and Technology Center for Childhood Deafness and Vision Disorders. “We work in partnership with educators across the country on how to develop spoken language and listening skills with children with profound hearing loss on early childhood practices. The technology allows teachers to dial in and have a coaching conversation on an ongoing basis.”

“In our eyes, this has been pretty successful,” said Liza Falchak, Audiologist at Akron (Ohio) Public Schools, who has been working with Boys Town National Research Hospital for two years. “We’ve come a long way in being a lot more developmentally appropriate…we’ve had a major overhaul in the way we look at our preschool.”

Through the Auditory Consultant Resource Network, school districts, clinics and schools for the deaf learn about the latest technologies and advances in teaching to best suit their young students. Boys Town audiologists, student assessment specialists, deaf educators, speech-language pathologists, counselors and home-based early interventionists help educators learn their best practices for helping deaf or hard of hearing children reach their full potential.

“We’re working on spoken language or sign language development,” said Dr. Carotta. “This approach is allowing us to see the power and potential in children.”

The technology, expert tools and teaching are helping kids like Jackson spread their wings as they prepare for life’s next big steps.

“You can always tell when they’re ready to fly,” said Mixan, “There’s a satisfaction to know that you gave them as much as you could and now they’re ready to go.”

Childhood Deafness