Shelly Ash is a cochlear implant audiologist at All Children’s Hospital in Florida. She shares her story about why she become an audiologist and her experiences in being an audiologist.
Growing up, I didn’t know there was a profession called Audiology. Although there was a residential school for the deaf in a nearby town, I had never met a person with severe or profound hearing loss. I just knew from an early age that I wanted to work with children, and until I was in high school I thought I would become a child psychologist.
In my junior year of high school I was assigned to write a research paper on an occupation. Feeling certain I knew all I needed to know about psychology, I decided to learn about something different, so I choose speech pathology. After completing the assignment I realized that I was intrigued by the idea of helping children learn to communicate, and decided to pursue speech pathology as my major in college.
I didn’t find my niche in any of the classes I took in the first two years. It was disen- heartening to me that I had spent half my college career taking courses in the various speech pathology specializations and wasn’t overly inspired. Then I took my first Audiologu course in my junior year, and was hooked by the technology. All the knobs, dials and buttons! Audiology offered the opportunity to explore rehabilitation, electronics and work in a helping profession with people.
In 1987, I started graduate school. The pediatric clinical trials for multichannel cochlear implants was in process, but in my part of the world in north central Illinois, my exposure to cochlear implants was limited to one child with a single channel device. She attended the model school program for deaf and hard of hearing children that was housed on the university campus. Her speech processor was large and bulky, and she worked really hard to make use of her device. I sat in on a number of her aural rehabilitation sessions, and in my second year of graduate school I completed my externship working with the deaf and hard of hearing children at the model school. That experience solidified my plans to work with children with hearing loss.
In 1989, the year before cochlear implants were approved for children, I finished graduate school and went off in search of work in educational or pediatric audiology. I landed at the University of Miami School of Medicine, where a new cochlear implant program was getting off the ground. Again, the opportunity to learn new technology and incorporate my desire to work in a helping profession with my enjoyment of knobs, buttons and dials presented itself! And so in 1990, I began working with cochlear implant recipients – both adults and children – during the infant years of cochlear implants as approved medical treatment for deafness.
In 2000, I was given the opportunity to take all my experience and parlay it into expanding an existing pediatric cochlear implant program. All Children’s Hospital was looking for an experienced cochlear implant audiologist, and this was just the sort of position I was ready to undertake. I had worked with many generations of cochlear implant systems, as well as learned the importance of exposure and accessibility, and All Children’s Hospital already had an amazing network of audiologists and speech/language therapists at 12 different locations across southwestern and central Florida. In conjunction with members of the already existing multidisciplinary team, we grew and developed into a world class pediatric cochlear implant program.
I like to say I am a “language therapist masquerading as an audiologist” because I so strongly believe in the power of working in tandem with the therapists that provide the weekly habilitation and support to the children and families. It’s our team philosophy to let the desires and dreams of the family lead the way in the decision to choose cochlear implantation. If the family desires language acquisition through listening, it’s my role to inform them based on research and professional experience as to how the goal can be achieved. Pediatric audiologists are not only responsible for helping children hear, but also to support the goals and methods of the language therapists. Therefore it is the responsibility of the pediatric audiologist to understand not only how to provide access to sound, but how children learn to use sound for communication purposes. It is a really special role in a family’s life, one that I feel privileged to fulfill over and over.
I would say to anyone wanting to join the specialization of pediatric cochlear implants that above all, you must be ready to do so much more than diagnosing hearing loss. Families need our compassion, information and support. We need to not only serve as guides and mentors, but also as sounding boards, collaborators and above all else, be good listeners.