Therapy helps children born deaf learn to speak

CINCINNATI -- Five-year-old Ava has so much fun when she meets with her speech pathologist, she may not even know she's putting in a lot of hard work learning to speak.

Ava was born deaf. 

"We didn't know," her mom, Colleen Hinman, said. "We found out when she was about 18 months old that she was deaf, profoundly deaf on both sides."

Experts say the number of children with hearing loss is growing. An estimated one to six newborns of every 1,000 have some level of congenital hearing loss. While sign language and lip reading are popular ways to communicate, many can communicate verbally. 

After learning that Ava is deaf, Hinman said she wanted as much therapy and interaction as possible for her daughter. 

"We definitely wanted to remove any barriers that we could remove for her," she said. 

Avanti Bhatia, a speech language pathologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, said they have Ava listen for sounds, learn to pay attention to sounds and learn to tell that sounds have meaning. From there, they build a foundation of vocabulary.

"Before they say their first words, they have a whole year of listening experience," Bhatia said. "So we try to mimic that in the therapy session."

Ava's speaking age is about two years behind her physical age. But that should improve with continued therapy.

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