Wednesday, November 02, 2011

100 Days of Gratitude - Day 11: Nancy Mellon

My son has severe-to-profound hearing loss.  For the first three years of his life, he had little access to sound.  About six months ago, we got him hearing aids, which enabled him to hear some, but not all sounds (he had especially trouble with the high pitches, including sounds like "sh" and "th", which are critical for understanding language.)

Recently - at age 4 - he received a cochlear implant at Johns Hopkins.  The implant gives him excellent access to   the full spectrum of sounds.  But now he faces the monumental task of learning to associate those sounds with meaning - and to turn around and make the same sounds back to other people in conversation.

Most babies start the process of understanding oral language and beginning to speak from day 1 of their lives.  Playing catch up is very difficult for kids who are more than a year or two old.  Fortunately, Nancy Mellon, who faced a similar situation with her son 18 years ago, decided that she was not going accept what was then seen as inevitable - i.e., delayed and impaired language acquisition for her son.  So she went out and did the research and found the most experienced and enlightened people in the field and decided to start a school specifically dedicated to kids like her son and mine.

Nancy and her team founded the River School in 2000, initially with only five students.  It is now a thriving community of well over two hundred students, ranging from infant to third grade.  Instead of segregating kids with hearing loss in separate classes, Nancy decided her school would mix them in with very verbal kids without hearing loss, while providing intensive language coaching to the kids with hearing loss.  The goal is to get the kids with hearing loss mainstreamed into regular schools by third grade.

Nancy's own son just recently graduated from high school and headed off to one of the best colleges in the country.  My son is just starting, but so far so good.  He likes it, has great teachers, and is making steady progress.  And for that, I am extremely grateful to Nancy.