by Schae Richards, community editor 

Jackie Hendricksen, of Logan, is able to communicate with her 6-year-old son every day. She is proud of how far he has come, when just a few years earlier this wasn’t a possibility. Despite his hearing loss, Jackie’s son is able to do what any other child can. The Sound Beginnings program has played a huge part in this transformation.

Sound Beginnings is a free, early education program through Utah State University designed to help children who are deaf or hard of hearing “reach their full potential” through home and facility-based services.

“We believe families should have access to resources to help them communicate with their children however they want,” said Karl White, co-founder of Sound Beginnings and professor of psychology at USU.

After being approached by local school districts, Karl and Beth Foley, co-founder of Sound Beginnings and dean of the College of Education and Human Services at USU, worked together to form a graduate training program that would help children who use digital hearing aids and cochlear implants learn how to talk and listen. When first established in 2007, the program had about six children. Today, there are about 30 participating children.

Jackie’s son started the Sound Beginnings program when he was about 3 years old, and is now attending his last year in their kindergarten group. He continues to make progress every day.

“It’s giving my son the future that he may have not been able to obtain,” she said. “He’s going to have easier successes because of how hard he fought for them now.”

Karl said deaf children can communicate in a variety of ways, but typically do so through sign language, or spoken and listening language. While one is not better than the other, it’s important for parents to decide soon after birth (or diagnosis) how they will communicate with their child.

Teacher playing with kids

Sound Beginnings is the only early education program in Cache Valley that focuses on spoken and listening language. With proper education and support, children can begin to develop critical skills that will allow them to thrive in their environment.

“We are trying to help families help their child become everything they want them to be,” Karl said.

Nicole Martin, program director for Sound Beginnings and speech and language pathologist, has seen this success first-hand in the classroom.

“I remember a little girl who came in with a late start,” she said. “…She liked to play horses and would gallop into her own little corner, not really socializing with the other children. But once she started developing these skills, her personality started to shine.”

Amber Skinner, of Logan, is another mother whose family has greatly benefited from the program. She, like Jackie, has been impressed with the quality of services her two sons are receiving.

“I have no doubt about my children’s success,” she said. “That brings me the greatest joy.”

Sound Beginnings offers a diverse set of services. Based on their age and individual needs, children can participate in the following programs:

  • Home-Based: From birth to 18 months old, the child can receive assistance at home through teleconferencing and weekly family visits from an early-intervention provider. Through these services, parents will be able to establish communication methods with their child, while helping them become familiar with different sounds.
  • Infant and Toddlers: From 18 months to 30 months old, the child will attend a parent-child group that meets twice a week for a couple of hours. During this time, parents can watch their children engage in the different listening and language activities available.
  • Preschool: At 30 months old, the child will switch to the preschool class that meets Monday-Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Here, they will participate in extensive language and listening activities, heavily interact with other children and become more independent. They will also receive music therapy to enhance their learning experience.
  • Mainstream/Kindergarten: Children attending a local elementary school can still receive services that are centered on speech and language development and in compliance with the Utah Core Standards. Each child will also participate in individual therapy sessions.
  • Summer School: All programs and services are offered during the summer months, so children can continue to increase their spoken and listening language skills.
  • Other services: On-site audiologists are available for hearing testing, hearing aid services and cochlear implant mapping. In addition, individual therapy sessions are provided to help each child track their progress.

Nicole said Sound Beginnings has given parents a new sense of hope, while it has presented these children new possibilities.

“We want children to have the confidence they need,” she said. “Once they have those language building blocks, they begin to blossom.”

For more information on the program and enrollment, visit www.soundbeginnings.usu.edu.