May 2021 Argonaut Online
No Limits for Deaf Children and Families is a Culver City-based nonprofit that is focused on providing speech and language therapy, academic enrichment, and a national theatre program to deaf and hearing-impaired children and families. They strive to create a community and help the children see a world beyond their hearing loss.
“Most of the time there is only one deaf child in a classroom, they’re all alone in a room of kids who can hear everything that’s going on around them,” said Kathy Buckley, a deaf comedian and ambassador for No Limits. “Michelle, [the founder] wanted to give them a safe place. A place for them to be themselves and to be kids.”
Michelle Christie started her work as a speech therapist at Echo Horizon School in Culver City. In 1996 she created No Limits Theatre, which helped kids practice their speech and communication skills. She later founded the language, speech and auditory training centre in Culver City to impact the lives of even more children.
Unlike most speech therapy programs, which help children from birth to five years old, No Limits stays with the children until they are 18 and maintains an alumni community. Christie made sure the program educates the whole family and teaches them to advocate for the child. “Her passion, her drive and her compassion, to know that these kids can do more than these people are saying, made her a hero in my eyes,” Buckley said. “She’s gonna make them have dreams. I was never taught to have dreams.”
The No Limits Theatre has had over 100 original shows in 13 different states. The theatre program builds children’s self-esteem and language skills in a fun and creative way. Buckley writes all of the lines to target speaking concerns. If a child has difficulties with “sh” words, she will include more of those words in their lines. “The cool thing is, with theatre they don’t feel like they’re working on their speech, they think they’re working on their character,” Buckley said. “They see other kids with hearing loss […] and it makes them feel normal.”
No Limits Theatre has students of a wide age range, the youngest being 4 years old. Alumni often come back and work with the younger students. Buckley said the alumni are especially important since they show the families and children role models and success stories. While the No Limits Theatre provides a creative environment to practice speaking, the No Limits Educational Centres works to get children up to a speaking level, and later provide academic support. “With today’s technology, kids are getting cochlear implants, which give them the ability to hear, but the brain doesn’t know what to do with the sounds,” Buckley said. “Our job is to help exercise the brain to recognise sounds, as well as to teach them how to breathe so that they can speak.”
No Limits is working with UCLA to do follow-up auditory therapy on the children receiving the implant. While UCLA does the procedure on toddlers, they also perform it on some children as old as 5 years old, which causes the brain to have adjusted to a life without sound. Consequently, many children have not learned to speak and have smaller than average diaphragms. Buckley said that the time needed to get to a speaking level varies. No Limits works one-on-one with the children several times a week, and most children reach a competent speaking level within a few months.
“The best thing in the world is when you see a parent, who has been living in fear and has no hope because they can’t connect with their child, hear [their child] say “Mom” for the first time,” Buckley said. “The family gets so excited because it’s the first time they have a connection with their child.”
Due to the large need for speech therapy for deaf and hearing- impaired children, Christie brought the No Limits curriculum to people who couldn’t afford to come to the educational centre. No Limits has gone to Africa, India, Vietnam and Japan to teach educators. Currently, they are working with children from Vietnam via Zoom. “That was the good thing about the pandemic, we could reach out to more people just through the camera,” Buckley said. “That’s been amazing.”
In California, No Limits serves around 60 families in Culver City, has an additional educational centre in Las Vegas, and has recently started work in Oxnard. No Limits also recently celebrated its 25th anniversary and held a virtual event with deaf guest speakers, No Limits alumni, a magic show, and a comedy show with Buckley and current students. Buckley said the nonprofit is celebrating the anniversary all year and encourages people to volunteer their time or donate money. “We want every child to have an equal opportunity of the best education possible,” Buckley said.