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Then and Now: Reflecting on 100 years of hearing health

Selections from Dr. Laurie Hanin’s centennial reflections.

March 2010

In December, 1910, Edward B. Nitchie, then a principal of a private school of lipreading, called two of his pupils in to a meeting. This began an organization know as the Nitchie Alumni Association whose primary purpose was to “aid and further in any and every way possible any helpful work among the hard of hearing.” In 1911, the agency was incorporated and the name changed to the Nitchie Service League, Inc. In 1913 the name changed to the New York League for the Hard of Hearing, a name which “stuck” until the mid 1990’s when it became the League for the Hard of Hearing and then, in 2009, the Center for Hearing and Communication.

The past 100 years has seen enormous growth and change in the wealth of services and treatments available to individuals with all degrees of hearing loss. Things we take almost for granted today couldn’t even have been conceived of in 1910 when Mr. Nitchie launched his small but remarkable organization:

  1. Cochlear implants allowing the profoundly deaf to hear;

  2. Newborn screening of hearing;

  3. A federal law prohibiting discrimination in the workplace on the basis of disability; and

  4. Technology making movies, theater, computer videos accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing (the videos and computers themselves were only glimmers of science fiction!).

But despite the changes seen in the world and at the “League/Center for Hearing and Communication,” we have stayed true to our mission (with a bit of language modernization). We help connect people to life by helping to reduce any impact that a hearing loss can have. We have also stayed true to some of the services that were considered to be important then, and we still consider important now.

Consider the year 1921… a major accomplishment of the League was participating in the Health Day Examinations under the NYC Department of Health, identifying 4000 children with hearing loss.  Now fast forward to 2005… Center for Hearing and Communication initiated a program called Project PATH (Preschool Access to Hearing) which, to date, has provided hearing screenings to approximately 14,000 preschoolers across the city on our mobile audiological van.  About 25% of the children have been referred for further evaluation, either medical or audiological as they did not pass the screenings and were identified as being at risk for hearing loss. Project PATH has been fully funded through private foundation and individual donor support and has provided a critical service that was not being met any other way.

Then, and now, we believe that all children must have their hearing evaluated, and any hearing loss treated, if they are to have the opportunity to achieve their potential.

April 2010

A story was told in the February 1942 issue of one of our older periodicals, “The Bulletin.” In the summer of 1932, seven year old “Susan” was recovering from meningitis which had completely destroyed her hearing. Prior to that, she had perfectly normal hearing. Her father had been advised somewhere, correctly, that her hearing could never be restored, and incorrectly, that her only option was to enter a school for the deaf and learn sign language. He refused this option for her; Susan had been thriving and learning in the second grade, had all normally hearing friends, and knew how to speak. Her father found the “League” and came to us to see what our suggestions were, and staff here agreed that they should at least “experiment” and give her a chance to go back to her regular school and continue communicating as she had been. She received private lipreading instruction here, and staff here worked with her teachers to help her in school. When she was ready to enter high school, since we “knew that the limitations imposed by a total loss of hearing upon its victims were great,” she had a series of aptitude tests to help her pick an appropriate vocation, and the field of commercial art was chosen. At the time of the writing, she was studying art and working part-time in the field of costume sketching.

Fast forward to the present time.  Children with certain strains of meningitis still are at risk of losing all of their hearing. However, no more are parents told that there is nothing to be done to “restore” their hearing. Almost routinely, parents are presented with the option of a cochlear implant very soon after the child recovers. While it may not be accurate to say that hearing is fully restored, our experience at the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) is that when these children receive a cochlear implant and it’s combined with our program of  intensive, auditory-oral training and school support, it seems as if it is restored. Time and time again, our staff of audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and psychologists helps these children and their families on the road to recovery. One of our honorees at our 100th Annual Meeting on May 25 is an example of how far we’ve come since the 1930’s. Caitlin Parton, now 25 years old, had meningitis at the age of 22 months. She was immediately referred to our agency to enter our speech therapy program and, a few months later at NYU Medical Center, was the youngest child in the country to receive a cochlear implant. Caity continued with our support services throughout her school years. She was fully mainstreamed through-out her education, graduated from the University of Chicago, and is currently working as a paralegal at a civil rights law firm in Washington, DC.

Then, the “League” was there to provide support in myriad ways to help deaf and hard of hearing children and adults despite the fact that the technology available was extremely limited. Now, CHC is still here to provide the critically needed support so that our clients can obtain the maximum benefit possible from the incredible technological options available today. A child born deaf today can have limitless vocational options. With the right support, now, anything is possible.

September 2010

In the early 1970’s the “League’s” monthly periodical published an article written by Sister M. Winifred Danwitz titled Auditory Processing Disturbances in the Young Child.The article called attention to a then barely recognized disorder – “an auditory dysfunction which cannot be measured in decibels, a disorder in processing what the ear has heard.” This article pointed out the challenge of diagnosing the disorder and then providing intervention to children who have normal peripheral hearing but who do not process the sounds that they hear accurately.  The article pointed out that to these children the world may be confusing and even threatening. Without a good command of language, a child’s behavior becomes affected and can be characterized by excessive crying, tantrums, low tolerance for frustration, and emotional instability. The child may be impulsive and hyperactive and have considerable difficulties achieving academic success in school. Parents of these children will often need counseling to help them understand their child’s challenges.

Fast forward about 40 years. Much has changed. Many audiologists are well equipped to diagnose what is now widely known as auditory processing disorder, or APD. Much is known about the symptoms that a child may exhibit and much is known about the audiological tests that can be given to diagnose the disorder.  However, many children who demonstrate these symptoms are not referred for the proper evaluations to diagnose the disorder.  Speech-pathologists, teachers, and pediatricians are not all equally aware of the condition and what can be done to treat it. This year, in July, CHC was proud to open the Auditory Processing Center, directed by Lois Kam Heymann. The center provides a comprehensive approach to the evaluation and treatment of APD combining audiological and communication evaluations, speech and language therapy, educational consultations, and lectures and workshops to parents and professionals. Then and now, CHC has been at the forefront of educating consumers as well as providing the valuable services that individuals with communication challenges are so in need of.

June 2010

Back in 1959, the New York League for the Hard of Hearing (now known as the Center for Hearing and Communication) celebrated its 50th anniversary. Then, “the staff faced challenging tasks with actual and hoped-for medical and technological advances and a need to keep pace with the new knowledge and the increasing service.”  One of the “then” advances noted that summer was the “development of wearable binaural (two) hearing aids” and the “League” was involved in a study assessing the value of binaural hearing aids for hard of hearing school children in elementary schools. This was truly radical for the time. Prior to that, technology simply didn’t allow for a child to wear two hearing aids; they were too big! And adults didn’t wear two hearing aids because no one even had realized that there might be a benefit to wearing two hearing aids. Many years later, audiological researchers investigating the benefits of binaural hearing aids (for children AND adults) found that the understanding of speech in noise, and the ability to detect where sound is coming from was significantly better than when only one hearing aid was used. Additional research added other compelling evidence to using not one, but two hearing aids. Numerous studies have shown that when an ear with significant residual hearing is not aided, over time, that ear can show a decrease in speech perception ability.

Fast forward now to our 100th anniversary. For people with hearing loss in both ears, the use of binaural amplification has essentially become the “standard of care.” For people with severe and profound hearing loss who may not receive adequate benefit from hearing aids, a new technology has emerged over the past 20 years, the cochlear implant. And today, CHC speech-language pathologists work on a daily basis with both children and adults who are newly benefiting from the use of bilateral (two) cochlear implants. More and more, we are recommending to our clients that they receive not one, but two cochlear implants. Some children and adults who have been previously implanted with one implant have a second surgery to receive the second. Some are implanted initially with two implants. They see the benefit, and so do we. It can be challenging for individuals to adapt to the additional auditory information provided by a second implant, but our speech-language pathologists have particular expertise in facilitating this learning.

Then and now, our staff and clients have been on the cutting edge of technology and we are proud to be a part of this work.

Celebrating 100 Years… Hear for the Future!

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