October 29th, 2012 by Elizabeth | Tags: AGBell, Babies, Children, Cochlear Implant Convention, Oral Education, Professional Development, Professional Story | 2 Comments »
Things come full circle. In 2008, I was walking around the exhibit hall at the AG Bell Convention in Milwaukee. I heard a voice call out to me, “Wait… you don’t work in Deaf Education, do you?” My first thought was, “Who is this person?” and my second was, “Duh! That’s why I’m here!” I turned around and saw a familiar face from years ago — Lyra Repplinger! Back when I was in middle school, Lyra was doing her student teaching placement as a Teacher of the Deaf at the school I was attending. As I spent most of my time cutting class and hanging out in the deaf ed. room (true story: I once convinced the PE teacher that since I took after school ballet lessons, I didn’t have to take PE, and spent that time “observing” for my future career in the TOD’s self-contained classroom), we had gotten to know each other then. In Milwaukee, Lyra was just as I had remembered her — vivacious, intelligent, and passionately committed to making a difference for children with hearing loss. In the ensuing years, we have reconnected, and she has been a valuable source of professional advice for me. Now, she’s sharing her wisdom with all of you. Please enjoy this interview with Lyra Repplinger, Teacher of the Deaf.
Growing up I always wanted to be a teacher. My parents are both physicians and urged me to look into a science major in college. I was immediately drawn to Communication Science and Disorders at Augustana College and loved the practices of teaching language. Part of my practicum allowed me to observe at speech pathologists whose caseload was primarily children with hearing loss. He pulled them for individual therapy to focus on articulation. I wanted to learn more about how they learned concepts and curriculum, not just whether or not they could say words correctly. My supervisor urged me to observe their classroom and that is where I first saw a deaf educator in action. Instead of getting a Master’s in speech pathology, I applied to get a Master’s in deaf education.
Where have you worked/what roles have you filled (classroom teacher, itinerant, etc.)?
My first job was at The Moog Center for Deaf Education. I was a student teacher for the fall and on the last day of my placement I begged to stay. I felt like there was so much more for me to learn. The Moog administration was amazing and found a place for me in their new program called EARLY INTERVENTION. Looking back, spending that time as a first year teacher learning about birth to three was equal to winning a lottery ticket in this field! Back then, getting a cochlear implant at 2 1/2 years old was considered “early,” but I was able to see the progress that the children were able to make as soon as they got access to sound.
When I moved back to Illinois with my family, I worked at another Moog school in the Chicagoland area. Child’s Voice was also launching their Early Intervention Program in their brand new building. I started as an individual therapist, then a toddler classroom teacher, and eventually the Early Intervention program coordinator for Child’s Voice. In five short years, we went from having just one classroom with 5 toddlers, to having two full capacity toddler classrooms, parent support groups, social work, individual speech therapy, and a home based parent infant therapy.
I had the great honor of being a part of the University of Chicago’s Pediatric Hearing Loss and Cochlear Implant Program. As a deaf educator, I never envisioned that I would be employed anywhere BUT a school. The medical setting is fascinating and such a huge part of a family’s life when their child is being diagnosed with a hearing loss. Often times I was one of the first faces the family saw after hearing the news of their child’s hearing status. It allowed me to gain better understanding of the kind of support parents needs during the initial news. I also felt that I was a bridge between the medical and educational setting. The University of Chicago team would make sure that we had the contacts of our patient’s home therapists or school placements.
My most recent role was the preschool teacher at the Colorado Oral Deaf Preschool. Services for listening and spoken language option were scarce in the Denver area and the preschool was a great resource to the community. As the only teacher for the preschool I was able to create a curriculum that was unique and innovative. Auditory development and speech productions just scratched the surface of what was happening in the classroom. Cognitive thinking, critical thinking and social development was integrated throughout the entire day at the school. The kids were active and engaged learners and I experienced so much joy just being a part of it.
What are the major changes or trends you’ve noticed over the course of your career?
I’ve seen major trends and changes in cochlear implantation. Patients are becoming candidates earlier, getting intervention earlier and many have bilateral implants. I’ve also seen some beautiful pediatric hearing aids that fit babies ears so perfectly and truly promote wearing hearing aids during all waking hours from the get go.
Co-treatment of services is also a trend that I wholeheartedly promote. I have had students on my caseload that receive occupational or physical therapy and I try very hard to co treat with other professionals a few times a year and to communicate with them outside of IEP and IFSP meetings. Learning from other multidisciplinary team members has been an integral part of my professional development. I have gained some great ideas from watching physical therapists and occupational therapists at work, and hopefully I have been able to reciprocate when they observe me.
What do you want the parents of your students to know?
I want parents to know that there are all kinds of success that they will encounter in this journey with their child. I try very hard to point out these successes at every session.
Sometimes parents indicate that they mark success when their child says a first word, or goes into mainstream school. And believe me, those are success to me too. But when the child is only 3 months old, the milestones of talking and going to a mainstream first grade class may seem like light years away. I want them to celebrate every little step. When their child is wearing hearing aids for 3 hours straight, smiling at the sound of their parents voice, making new lip smacking noises while eating…these are ALL Great things to celebrate!
I have met and worked with some of the best parents in the world. And I can picture the great strengths that these parents have and can sum it up in advice form.
Trust your gut. Parental instinct is real thing. If you feel like your child’s hearing status is questionable, get to the professionals and specialists that will give you the answers that you need.
Don’t settle. Services are given so that you and your child can receive the intervention and support that you need. I have heard families say, a therapist comes over and “just plays with my child”. Therapists aren’t glorified babysitters, they should have a knowledge base and a skill set that make the time you invest in the sessions worthwhile.
TALK and TALK and TALK to your child, and just when you think you are about to go crazy….talk some more. Now that these babies are getting access to sound earlier, you need to let them know what sounds they should be paying the most attention to, and that would be the sound of your voice. Talk. Sing. Read. Let them hear your voice.
And the last advice is one that I just learned this year. Document your journey! I met with a family who documented their journey through videos and pictures. Even in the waiting room after receiving the news that the ABR did find that there was a profound hearing loss, they video documented a message for their daughter telling her future self that they everything was going to be okay and they were going to find the team she needed to be happy and successful. It was touching and wonderful and so very true! Their little girl got bilateral implants at 14 months old and is doing brilliantly. For her second birthday, her family put together a series of videos from birth til present day. They not only included the day of diagnosis and her implant surgery, but also family vacations, and everyday routines around the house. Their daughter’s life was more than just medical appointments and therapy sessions, and how awesome that they have it captured for ever to enjoy and remember for years to come.
What advice do you have for prospective Teachers of the Deaf?
In 2000, I graduated from Illinois State University. I was so fortunate that ISU’s program allowed me to learn the history of deaf education and be fluent in sign language. At the same time, the program was also forward thinking and my professors encouraged me to explore the listening and spoken language method of teaching deaf children. I’m so grateful that I was able to truly learn about the different methods of teaching. I encourage future teachers of the deaf to do the same.
I also cannot stress enough the need to learn more about birth to three program and how to teach babies with hearing loss. A lot of that starts with learning about typical child development because when you are going into the home of a first time parent, their concerns may not always be hearing loss related. They may ask you things about developmental milestones, so it is always good to know about what babies should able to do or getting ready to do at their various stages.
Observe audiology appointments and pediatric ENT programs and if you are really lucky, a cochlear implant surgery. Understanding the medical aspect is yet another way to be a great resource to your students and their parents.
I have taught birth to three for the greater part of my deaf education career. Many times kiddos age out of my program just as they are starting to really talk and express their ideas. I have to say that because of that proud teaching moments often happen outside of the classroom and sometimes years later.
When I see videos of them performing their graduation speech and throwing in jokes to make the crowd laugh.
When parents tell me that their child received a behavior report from their mainstream school stating that the child is TOO talkative! (Sorry to say it, but I am proud of that!)
When I see pictures of them winning the state championships in their cheerleading competition.
When I see their gymnastic routines on youtube.
When parents of students I taught a decade ago, still send me holiday cards and notes on facebook.
Just the other day I saw pictures of my past student at a Justin Bieber concert, and it made me happier than I could ever explain.
These profoundly deaf kids, wearing cochlear implants, listening to music, following their dreams…AMAZING!
And to be a small part of that…it truly is more than I could ever wish for!