For those who have hearing loss, Elizabeth “Liz” Ying is pretty much a celebrity. She is widely recognized as being at the top of her field. For 40 years, she has been a pioneer in auditory-based oral speech and language therapy for adults and children with cochlear implants. According to the Center for Hearing and Communication, where she currently serves as Co-Director of the Shelly and Steven Einhorn Auditory and Communication Centers, Liz has transformed the lives of thousands of families, including ours.
It goes without saying that we jumped at the opportunity to work with her. Sonya started working with Liz at just five months, and we continue to see her today. Liz graciously agreed to participate in the below Q&A, which I hope parents and speech therapists who follow this blog will find helpful!
If you have a baby with hearing loss, what are the critical factors for long term success?
Given that I am an advocate for listening and spoken language, my feeling is you should (1) pursue the best audiological services to ensure your child has access to every drop of residual hearing possible and that they are getting the right amplification. (2) Commit to ongoing speech therapy intervention with a family-centered program. I can be the most experienced therapist in the world, but if the parents don’t convey the same strategies and practices at home, their child is not likely to progress. (3) Embed the child’s listening and language needs within everyday life. Working hand-in-hand with speech therapists and taking these strategies with you in your child’s daily life are the keys to success.
What should parents look for when hiring a speech therapist for their child?
You want to find someone who has theoretical training for techniques in listening and spoken language and who recognizes the developmental trajectory of language development.
Also, a good clinician will love kids! They will have a comprehensive approach and understand that a child is a child first. Speech therapy with children is play with a purpose. A good clinician will let the child play, but will also ensure that play is productive.
Lastly, a good speech therapist will be flexible. You can go into a session with a set lesson plan, but if the kid wants to do something totally different, you need to be flexible enough to switch it up but still accomplish your goals. Someone who is rigid is not going to be a great fit for working with children.
How is speech therapy for someone who got cochlear implants later in life different from a child who was implanted as a baby?
On one hand, it’s easier for adults. An adult has a language system already developed. It can also be more difficult. An adult will remember what sound used to be compared to what it is with a cochlear implant. Adults tell me the sound with the cochlear implant is tinny and that they can’t hear with it. Just like with a child, we must work to teach them how to listen with the new device.
And how do you do that?
Let’s say you have a person who works in an office setting. This person has managed their life through texts and email. They avoided conversational aspects in their profession. In this situation, you identify the immediate need – which is learning to listen for vocabulary in an office-setting. That’s where you start. Soon, the client will start seeing success within this aspect of their life.
At the Center for Hearing and Communication, we offer a “short term” therapy for such clients of 12 weeks, followed by an assessment. At the end of the 12 weeks, we discuss whether this has been beneficial and whether they want to continue therapy.
For people considering being a speech therapist for children with hearing loss, what advice would you give?
I would encourage them to understand that for children, especially babies, born with hearing loss – anything is possible. Unlike other limitations, hearing loss is an access issue. Once you provide the right technology and get the family on board to reinforce listening and language outside of the clinician’s office, kids can bridge the gap much earlier than ever before.
Sadly, a typical student in speech language pathology will get little exposure to kids with hearing loss. Most of the time, when I introduce this part of the profession to students I am met with great enthusiasm and surprise that they hadn’t encountered this area in their studies beforehand. And it is a very exciting field! You get every parameter you were trained to look at – i.e. the voice, articulation, language issues, and you can make a very significant difference in the outcome of many children.
Any other words of wisdom for parents and speech therapists who are reading this?
No matter how you look at it, a person with hearing loss may not receive a 1:1 signal. They may not get a message in it’s entirety. I feel that literacy is a critical component to successful auditory-based speech therapy. As soon as your child is born, start reading. Once the child has some language and understanding, use books even more. And refrain from paraphrasing and making up stories. Use the vocabulary in the books because usually it is not vocabulary you would normally use. My sessions are always organized around reading a story. I first have the child complete a task and the task leads us to a story.
“Literacy is a critical component to successful auditory-based speech therapy.” – Elizabeth Ying, Co-Director of the Shelly and Steven Einhorn Auditory and Communication Centers, Center for Hearing and Communication
Like today! You asked Sonya to repeat a sentence from a book, and she repeated it but also missed part of the sentence, right?
Yes! We need to teach Sonya – and other kids like her – to fill in those missing pieces. And the way to do that is to enhance her vocabulary through literacy. Once Sonya hears a word she knows, her brain will immediately pull up associated words. For example, if you say “dog” her brain will listen for associated words, like “leash” or “bone.” This is how the brain works to fill in missing information.
Reading expanded my world as a hearing person. I grew up in Jim Crow South. I didn’t have exposure to a lot of things. But I did through books! Once I learned to read, I could go anywhere. It’s the same for our kids with hearing loss.
Thank you, Liz for all you have done for Sonya and thank you for participating in this Q&A! I know other parents and clinicians will greatly appreciate your insight and experience!