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Elizabeth Ying: Improving care for children with cochlear implants

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

What do you do to cap off a 40-year career in aural habilitation and rehabilitation? If you’re speech therapist Elizabeth (Liz) Ying, you connect with old friends and embark on a new journey.

CHC’s therapy for children with cochlear implants

Children with cochlear inplants receive therapy at CHC i new York
Elizabeth Ying, MA, CCC-SLP, with a young cochlear implant recipient

Liz Ying is animated as she discusses her plans to raise the industry standards of care for people of all ages who are deaf and hard of hearing. It’s both a new challenge and one she has achieved already. Her pioneering work in auditory-based oral speech and language therapy for adults and children with cochlear implants has helped to transform the lives of more than a hundred thousand families in the US alone.

Last spring, Liz joined the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) in New York as Co-Director of the Shelley and Steven Einhorn Audiology and Communication Centers, a leadership position she shares with audiologist Ellen Lafargue. The occasion was a coming home for Liz, since CHC was where she began her career as a speech-language pathologist.

Q&A with Elizabeth Ying

Excited to discuss her role at CHC and other topics related to her life’s work, Liz sat down for a Q&A.

JC: What brought you to the field of aural habilitation and rehabilitation – working with children and adults who are deaf and hard of hearing?

LY: I was in the right place at the right time! Growing up in the South I was from a family of educators, and it was assumed I’d be an educator too. But a friend of the family who knew I’d like a profession with a medical aspect recommended speech-language pathology. It combines the two.

During my studies in Colorado, we had a number of faculty members who were pioneers in auditory-based therapy. They were leading research at the time and tackling the big questions like, Can you test a baby?  They were definitely a big influence. I ended up loving audiology so much I graduated with a double masters in speech-language pathology and audiology.

JC: What you didn’t mention is that you got that double masters at the age of 20. A big accomplishment. Can you share some of the major changes you’ve seen in the field since then?

LY: Universal newborn hearing screening. That has led to fitting babies with amplification earlier. And, of course, cochlear implants.

I credit CHC for being an early leader in research on adults and children with cochlear implants and aural habilitation. Back in the late 80s, the first implants were through NYU. I was with CHC at the time and we partnered with NYU to provide supervision of the children’s therapy program. We demonstrated that cochlear implants worked for children. The FDA approved cochlear implants for kids 2 to 18 because of that work.

JC: You left New York for a period of time mid-career.

LY: I left New York for the Midwest for family reasons. But in terms of my career, I felt, again, like I was in the right place at the right time. I was affiliated with Indiana University working on NIH-funded research on the efficacy of cochlear implants. I became a clinical researcher involved in gaining evidence for cochlear implant rehabilitation. After ten years in Indiana, I brought my research skills back to New York to pair with my clinical background.

JC: What is your vision for the communication program at CHC?

LY: Our goal is for CHC to be a true partner to parents. We”ll be there every step of the way as their child with hearing loss or auditory processing disorder develops. That includes support for listening and language skills as well as social-emotional and educational development.

Parents retuning to CHC this school year are already discovering some really exciting new clinical offerings. Our programming is more comprehensive than ever. But at the same time it’s more dynamic and individualized. So each family gets the support that’s right for them.

JC: Can you be more specific?

LY: We have new clinicians on board with expertise in the development areas that are so important to our kids. Dana Selznick is a deaf education specialist providing after-school tutoring and social skills therapy to ensure our kids reach their full potential in school. Sandra Mays is a child psychologist available to help when children struggle with difficult emotional issues. And Zara DeLuca is a pediatric speech-language pathologist specializing in the speech and language needs of children with cochlear implants and auditory processing disorder.

JC: What do you think distinguishes CHC’s children’s program from others in New York?

LY: Our program continues to be very much a family-centered one. We engage not just the child but the whole family’s participation in the habilitative process. That’s really what makes us unique and allows our children to thrive on every level. We’re excited this year to offer a series of new parent workshops for “all ages and stages” and a new weekly parent and infant training group.

The other difference parents discover at CHC is that we have a collaborative process between audiology and speech services. Both Ellen Lafargue and I have an understanding of the importance of bringing these two disciplines together. You simply cannot approach them separately. Because our aural habilitative and rehabilitative process for children and adults with hearing loss is more comprehensive and integrated, it raises the standard of care.

I’d like to mention one more piece of news. CHC will be having an open house September 30th at our office at 50 Broadway in New York. 2015. It’s a great opportunity for parents to visit CHC’s refurbished therapy space and meet our team of clinicians. We’ll be available to answer questions and share more about the new programs and services.

JC: After more than 40 years of working in this field, what do you find most gratifying about your work?

LY: I’ve been doing this so long – long enough to have my children with cochlear implants come back to me and say what a difference I’ve made.

After being away from New York for a number of years, I went to an AG Bell conference. When I got out of a taxi, there were all these former CHC kids. They heard I was going to be there and were eager to see me and tell me what they had been up to.

I’m demanding with my kids in therapy, and I push them, But I love them. You sometimes wonder if they’ll grow up with fond memories of our sessions. But when they get older, they say they really appreciate our time together. And I love that they are the ones to tell me that – not their parents.

I accepted an AG Bell Lifetime Achievement award from one of my former kids. Introducing me, I remember him saying, “She taught me how to fail.” Fortunately, he went on and added, “She empowered me to make decisions – taught me how to learn and make decisions about how to live my life.” It was wonderful that he could stand up there, address the audience, and express his needs and feelings.

I know I make a difference with the little ones. But when they tell you years later, that’s really special.

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