The MOOG Center for Deaf Children
The Moog School at Columbia has a saying: "Talk is cheap, unless you're deaf. Then, it's priceless."
But, how early can you start to teach a deaf child to talk, or even to listen?
When you walk into a school for deaf and hard-of-hearing kids for the first time, you might expect to hear very little and see a lot of sign language. But, at the Moog, you'd be wrong.
"She talks, she responds, she asks for interaction," said mom Michelle Dampfs.
All despite the fact four-month-old Ella has profound hearing loss. In other words, she can't hear anything unless mom turns on her ears.
"Each week, she seems to add a new sound," said Judy Harper, Moog director and speech pathologist.
Ella was born deaf and fitted for two hearing aids when she was just two months old.
"She changed that day," remembered her mother. "Before that day, she wouldn't have any eye contact. She would pull her ear way back and look back. No attempt to smile, no attempt to interact with you."
Now, Ella knows.
"If she wants me to do something, she needs to make a sound," explained Harper.
There are two ironic twists to this story: first, Ella's mom is a speech therapist.
"She started speech therapy at four weeks and, even being a speech therapist, I thought, 'What are we going to be working on?'" Dampfs recalled.
Second, one of Ella's older sisters also was born deaf.
"We were just as devastated as we were with Catherine," said Dampfs. "We just didn't expect it. It was the same blow as it was before."
So, Dampfs immediately called Moog so Ella could not only start learning how to listen with the help of her new hearing aids, but also start learning how to talk eventually.
"It's just noise to them. It's absolutely just noise," said Harper. "A deaf or hard-of-hearing child's brain has to be taught how to process and interpret that noise they hear."
Dampfs added, "It's not just put some hearing aids on the baby and she'll be fine."
As Harper put it, "They're learning to listen."
Harper has worked for several years with Ella's sister Catherine, who had her second cochlear implant a few weeks before Ella was born. Ella also will get two implants when she's a bit older.
Cochlear implants are the newest technology and are making an amazing difference in children and adults.
Unlike a hearing aid that makes sounds louder, a cochlear implant bypasses the damaged part of the ear and sends sounds straight to the ear's auditory nerve.