This week’s Blog post was written by my good friend Paige Stringer. Paige is a founder and Executive Director of the Global Foundation for Children With Hearing Loss and has done an unbelievable job in building services for deaf children learning listening and spoken language in a place where services were not available. Born with a profound hearing loss, she has leveraged 15 years of marketing and business development experience, including managerial positions held at the Clorox Company and Amazon.com, to establish and run this international organization. Paige holds her B.Sc. from the University of Washington, where she was a full scholarship athlete, and a M.A. from the University of San Francisco.
I was born with a severe to profound hearing loss and rely on a pair of hearing aids to bring sound into my life. My work requires me to travel a great deal and I certainly can sleep very well anywhere in the world no matter how close the hotel room is to the elevator. That said, I am grateful that I can listen and talk. Hearing is fundamental to language. Language is what connects us to other people and is the foundation of everything we do in life.
My hearing loss was identified when I was very young and I was provided with hearing aids and support services in the United States during the crucial early years of my development. This support enabled me to learn to communicate through spoken language and grow up to participate fully in our hearing society. It did not seem right to me that many children with hearing loss in other parts of the world would not have same opportunities in life simply because of where they are born. I founded the Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss to help change that. The Global Foundation is a nonprofit organization that helps children with hearing loss in developing and emerging countries access the hearing technology, educational support, and resources they need to reach their potential in our hearing world. Since 2010, the Global Foundation has been working to provide support to children with hearing loss in Vietnam.
There is growing demand in Vietnam for ENT doctors and pediatric audiologists who can effectively test hearing of young children and fit appropriate hearing technology. Vietnam established an inclusive education policy in the 1990s, mandating that children with disabilities, including hearing loss, have opportunities to integrate into mainstream schools. There are increasing numbers of early intervention programs for children with hearing loss and oral deaf education kindergarten classrooms in Vietnam to prepare these children for the inclusive setting. However there are not enough trained professionals in auditory-verbal deaf education, early intervention, speech therapy, or audiology. As access to hearing technology continues to improve and awareness increases in Vietnam about the potential for these young children with hearing loss to develop listening and spoken language, there will be even greater demand for such professional expertise. Vietnamese professionals who work with children with hearing loss recognize there are opportunities to enhance support for these children and they are anxious to learn. They have requested more training to prepare them for their work.
The Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss is helping to address this need by accelerating the development of existing resources for children with hearing loss in Vietnam. Children with hearing loss between 0-6 years of age today need immediate attention lest they miss the development window for auditory and language acquisition. We have been collaborating with the Vietnamese to identify — and close — gaps in the system of support for children with hearing loss and their families across education and health care.
Vietnam Deaf Education Program
The cornerstone of our work in Vietnam is a Vietnam Deaf Education Program, which is a collaboration with Thuan An Center for Hearing Impaired Children and Ho Chi Minh City University of Education in Vietnam. The purpose of this multi-faceted initiative is to empower teachers, medical teams, and families at 38 schools and 2 hospitals across 20 provinces in Vietnam with the expertise to help young children with hearing loss make use of hearing technology and learn to listen and talk.
What makes our Vietnam Deaf Education Program unique – besides its scale – is its multi-disciplinary and integrated approach. Our program provides professional development and training across audiology, speech pathology, early intervention, and auditory-verbal practice for Vietnamese families and professionals who have or work with children with hearing loss. We also provide hearing aids to young children in need as part of our Audiology training. The Global Foundation’s team is comprised of audiologists, speech therapists, and deaf education professionals from USA, Canada, and Hong Kong who work together with the Vietnamese to develop the curricula and then travel to Vietnam to teach the material. Our professionals volunteer their time and their expertise to this effort.
During our Summer Training Program, Vietnamese professionals attend the workshops at Thuan An Center covering audiology, early intervention, auditory-verbal practice, and speech pathology. The Education curriculum includes lecture, practicum. Teachers and therapists engage in therapy and classroom intensives with preschool and kindergarten-age children. The Audiology curriculum covers lectures in pediatric audiology testing and diagnostics. Audiology clinics provide hands-on opportunities for Vietnamese audio-technicians and medical staff to practice pediatric audiology skills with the families enrolled in the schools in our Deaf Education Program. Families engage in consultations and lectures with Global Foundation audiologists and education professionals. All of these activities take place in a singular location at Thuan An Center to promote the integrated nature of services for children with hearing loss.
During the year, the Global Foundation professionals travel to participating schools and hospitals in our program as part of our Mobile Mission series to provide on-site audiology and auditory verbal practice coaching and support.
The Global Foundation’s Deaf Education Program model may be a solution to the challenges associated with support for children that receive donated hearing aids from charitable entities. Because our program’s focus is on training, the local professionals and families are being empowered to provide the necessary education and therapy support to children that receive such hearing aids. For example, our hearing aid fitting efforts are folded into our Audiology training program, providing the opportunity for program participants to learn to do the work of testing hearing and fitting hearing aids themselves. Further, we share records about the children who receive hearing aids from us with their home schools and families so we can collectively track progress in their auditory and language development.
We work with the same group of schools, clinics, centers, and hospitals over time to ensure the participants build on their skills. And, because the participants are sharing their knowledge with other professionals and families in their communities, the benefits are exponential — and sustainable.
Since summer 2010, the Global Foundation has successfully executed three Summer Training workshops and three Mobile Missions. We have trained over 220 teachers, 270 families, and 125 medical and other professionals. We have fit 259 hearing aids on young children. Our efforts are reaching over 1000 children with hearing loss.
In just three years, professionals and families in Vietnam are demonstrating increased understanding and expertise for helping children with hearing loss learn to communicate through listening and spoken language. They are acting on that knowledge to enhance their country’s system of support for these children. For example, the advanced Audiology participants in our Summer Training Program have started a Collaboration Coalition that is committed to improving communication between teachers, audiology clinics, and hospitals in Vietnam to increase awareness and to provide the best care possible for the families. We look forward to supporting them in their realization of their vision and plans.
Our experiences with the families and professionals in our program reflect a reality that while much progress has been made, there are still opportunities for improvement to support children with hearing loss in Vietnam.
There are four key elements that need to be in place for a child who is deaf or hard of hearing to learn to listen and talk: early identification of hearing loss, access to appropriate hearing technology, the support of trained professionals, and an engaged family. Lack of resources and equipment have left hospital staff with little choice but to focus hearing screening efforts on “high risk” children, leaving hundreds more babies and young children with unidentified hearing loss that likely will lead to developmental delays. Access to hearing aids is still an issue in Vietnam, particularly in the poor communities. Early intervention services are still not widely available, particularly in rural areas.
The challenges have not discouraged us but rather have strengthened our purpose. Our Vietnam Deaf Education Program has already directly helped many Vietnamese professionals and families and has greatly increased awareness about what is possible when the right supports are in place. We have developed strong working relationships with Vietnamese partners in the deaf education and healthcare communities and with policy makers and other nongovernmental organizations. Together, we are looking at the system and working to strengthen the weak areas. With the collaborative team and commitment that exists in Vietnam, we know the effort will be successful.
The Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss is looking forward to continuing this important and life-changing work of helping children who are deaf and hard of hearing in Vietnam and in other countries. We welcome talented audiologists who have a spirit of adventure and teamwork to contact us about how to get involved with our programs in Vietnam and elsewhere. For more information, please visit www.childrenwithhearingloss.org .