Aug 2020 Savannah Morning News

Little Jordyn Sitzler was well on her way learning to speak and hear with her cochlear implants when the COVID-19 quarantine interrupted her journey.

For the last year or so, Jordyn and her mother, Ashlee, had been making great strides in the Parent and Infant program offered by the Savannah Speech and Hearing Centre, and had plans to enrol in the organisation’s Sound Start program as soon as Jordyn turned 2.  Sound Start is an oral-deaf preschool for children to pursue a listening and speaking track without the use of sign language or an interpreter. Children must be 2 and must be wearing hearing aids or have cochlear implants. The goal is to prepare the child for eventual mainstream schooling without being placed in a special class or having an interpreter.

Jordyn was diagnosed as profoundly deaf when she was 2 months old. She was born at full term but had fluid in her lungs and in her ears, Ashlee said, adding that she and her husband, Adam, immediately began researching options for their child when it was determined that she could not hear. “I thought, ‘OK, she could learn sign language or she could get cochlear implants,’” Sitzler recalled. Through world of mouth, she met parents of deaf children and headed in the direction of cochlear implants. The Sitzlers found a physician in Ft. Myers, Florida, who performed the surgeries on both sides at her young age. “I decided I wanted (cochlear implants) for my child, and I don’t regret it for a minute,” Sitzler said. In medical terms, Jordyn was “implanted” at 7 months and “activated” a month later. Afterward, mom and daughter began working with a speech therapist and others on the Savannah Speech and Hearing staff. The two would make the drive to Savannah from their home in Midway a couple of times a week.

Then, COVID-19 hit and life came to a screeching halt. When the quarantine was mandated in March, the Speech and Hearing Center shut down. Ironically, in October 2019 Sound Start Director Tracy Edenfield had attended a three-day workshop on teletherapy, a method of providing therapy over a live video connection, such as a computer or cell phone. When April rolled around and the quarantine was still in effect, it was time for Speech and Hearing to implement teletherapy for clients like Jordyn and her mom, who is “key” in making the program a success, Edenfield said.

“The program turned into parent/teacher instruction,” Edenfield explained. “All families were on board and all had the (necessary) technology.” The team helping Speech and Hearing clients during this new normal includes two deaf-education teachers, a speech pathologist, an audiologist and numerous student volunteers from Georgia Southern University’s Armstrong campus. At the beginning of each week, parents like Sitzler are given instructions and homework. In Sitzler’s case, she was advised to place Jordyn in her high chair (to keep her still) and put a doll or toy or even Cheerios on the tray and ask questions such as, “Can you feed the baby and what is the baby eating?” to encourage the child to listen and speak.

Additionally, twice a week the speech pathologist and her team use teletherapy with online programs such as Zoom or Facetime to work with Jordyn.

The process has not been without its ups and downs, Sitzler said. “It’s challenging trying to keep a 2-year-old still,” she explained. “But we made it work and we do it for as long as she shows interest.” Sitzler said consistency and patience are important and have paid off for her child.

Come September, Jordyn will begin Sound Start at the Speech and Hearing Centre.

If a parent chooses an auditory oral program for their child who is born deaf, and the child receives a surgically implanted cochlear implant, then the parent and child joins the Parent and Infant program as a resource for language support. Currently there are six children in the program: two white, one Black, two Hispanic and one Asian, Edenfield said, with openings for more in the nonprofit program. Socioeconomic status is not a factor in the enrolment into the Sound Start program with a sliding cost scale being offered. Many of the children transition over to K-5 and early elementary just as successfully as their hearing peers, Edenfield said.

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