May 2019 The Florida Times-Union

Emily Trevett passed her newborn hearing test. But when she was 6 to 9 months old, her parents began to suspect something was wrong. She was not babbling or turning her head in reaction to noises. Brett and Patty Trevett repeatedly expressed their concerns to her pediatrician, who referred Emily to Nemours Children’s Specialty Care in Jacksonville after their third inquiry when she was 14 months old. Test results were worse than they anticipated — Emily was profoundly deaf in both ears. “We were shocked and devastated and scared,” said Brett Trevett. “If we wanted our daughter to be part of the hearing world ... listening and talking and singing and playing,” he said, “we had to jump on it. She was already behind.”

Three months after the diagnosis, she got hearing aids and by the age of 2 years had cochlear implants. 

She has spent two years at the Jacksonville location of Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, which provides deaf and hard-of-hearing children with the listening, learning and spoken-language skills they needs to succeed. Now 4, Emily is thriving. Emily TrevettThanks to the school  and the implants, she is vocal, knows all the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they make. 

She loves for her parents to read books to her and comprehends what she hears. The child who initially did not know her own name may head to a mainstreamed prekindergarten next year. “It means everything. In the beginning, we thought she was going to be held back by this, not be able to lead a normal life,” her father said. “You only have a certain amount of time ... before the brain starts rewiring itself.”

Founded in 1867 in Northampton, Mass., Clarke annually serves about 1,000 children and their families at five locations. Cynthia Robinson is co-director of the Jacksonville school that opened in 1996 in Mandarin. Helping students like Emily progress is “absolutely wonderful,” she said. Far more progress has been achievable since the advent of cochlear implants for children in the 1990s. “I have been doing this kind of work since 1974,” Robinson said. “We did what we could [in those days], but most of the outcomes were not good. With cochlear implants, that changed absolutely everything. ... Everything I dreamed of came true.”

Still, early intervention is key. To explain why, she used an analogy comparing the brain to Play-doh. When you first open Play-doh, it’s soft and pliable. If you leave the cap off, when you return it’s hard and “you can’t do anything with it,” Robinson said. Same with the brain and hearing. Intervention between birth and age 3 is critical, she said, because the decline in the brain’s ability to “rewire” begins to decline the next couple of years after that and worsens from ages 5 to 7.

Also, she encouraged parents who suspect their child has hearing loss to keep asking questions and keep pushing for tests, like the Trevetts did. “Trust your own judgment,” she said. Jacksonville is one of Clarke’s five locations largely because of Nemours, a centre for cochlear implant surgery, she said. Whatever the school’s origins, Trevett said he is thankful for its impact on daughter Emily’s life. He is no longer worried about hearing loss holding her back. “She can do whatever she wants to do and be whoever she wants to be,” he said.

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