Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part report on Solano County Office of Education’s deaf and hard-of-hearing program.
VACAVILLE — Anela Medalle could be the cheerleader in Kymber Katen’s class of toddlers at the Irene Larsen Center.
“Yay,” said the 21-month-old as each of her classmates used a wand to move a digitized picture of themselves on a low-hanging Smart board to the appropriate location. Anela, with her constant smile and laugh, was having a good time interacting with Katen, her grandfather William Chua and her classmates.
Like with any toddlers, the parents and guardians worked to keep their squirming offspring seated and paying attention as they waited their turn during circle time first thing one recent morning. But unlike other toddlers, Anela and her classmates are outfitted with tiny hearing aids or cochlear implants to give them a boost up in the hearing world.
The class uses a combination of sights, sounds and sign language, plus an endless supply of interactive toys and activities, to keep the youngsters engaged and constantly learning.
“All of them have different abilities,” Katen said. “Some can do a full sentence, some can only do one word.
“They’re such amazing little kids. They impress me every day with the abilities they have.”
The regionalized program is a piece of the deaf and hard-of-hearing program for the Solano County Office of Education. The entire program is designed for infants through high school. Katen works with the infant program and the toddler program, totaling about 29 participants. She serves the program participants from birth to 18 months with visits to the home.
That’s where Andi Preciado – the daughter-in-law of Brian Preciado, the former Vacaville city fire chief – met Katen. Katen came to help with her son Archer Preciado, who is now 18 months old and in the toddler program.
“It was hard because when (Archer) first got hearing aids, we didn’t know what he could hear,” Preciado said. But once he got the hearing aids at 8 months, Preciado said he started talking more – even learning that dreaded parental word, “no.” Now he both signs and says “no” simultaneously.
“Because that’s what we do with him,” Preciado said, laughing.
Once the youngsters reach the toddler class, the focus is on language skill development through play and group activities such as bubble blowing, songs and even snack time, where the toddlers must use some form of communication to let Katen know what they want.
Katen said the class members all use sign language as a primary mode of communication. To facilitate hearing, she also wears an FM speaker microphone around her neck that transmits to the ears or directly into hearing implants such as hearing aids.
“They are all starting to use verbal communication, but still rely on sign language for communicating,” Katen said.
The class also involves the parents or caretakers, giving the adults activities they can do with the child at home. Since the class does not use hearing-adapted toys, everyone learns how to adapt play and learning.
“It gives them the tools to support their kids at home,” Katen said.
It also gives the parents a chance to talk to each other about things only they would understand – such as how to keep hearing aids on a toddler. In a recent class, Preciado and Thaty Yoder talked about just that. Archer doesn’t like to wear them in the house and also takes them out in the car, Preciado said. He’s lost the ear molds before, which go in the ear, but has never lost the hearing aid. The hearing aid strap is attached with a clip to the back of his shirt.
“Kade likes to take things apart so any chance he gets, he takes the battery out,” Yoder said.
Kade Yoder is a 2½-year-old bundle of energy with a mild to moderate hearing loss who uses a combination of speech and signing to make himself understood.
Because of their age, both Kade and Jena Saephan, 2½, who has a cochlear implant, will be headed to the regionalized preschool, which is housed in Vallejo. They’ll go four hours a day, five days a week and can stay in that location through third grade. If they stay with the county program, they’ll go to Cordelia Hills Elementary School for the remainder of elementary school, then Green Valley Middle School and finally to Rodriguez High School.
“It’s a good program,” Yoder said. “It’s taught me that I’m not alone in this situation. At first it’s disheartening . . . you go through this feeling sorry for yourself and your kid, then you come here and you’re not alone.”
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.