Before she and her husband, Harold Grider, left the hospital with their newborn son three years ago, Kristi Grider knew their baby had a hearing impairment.
In 2000, Kentucky had enacted the Newborn Hearing Screening program which is how Kenton's hearing loss was detected.
"He was born in August," Grider said, "and in November he got his hearing aids turned on. And the very next week, we started therapy."
Within the next few months, time which customarily is reserved for bonding and getting to know the newborn, the Griders had to also be concentrating on giving their son the best opportunity to experience hearing the world he had been born into.
"Looking back," she said, "I would tell (parents) not to wait. Seek hearing aids and therapy as soon as you can."
Marcey Ansley, executive director of the Lexington Hearing & Speech Center, where Kenton attends pre-school, agrees.
"Early intervention is crucial," she said.
The center, which is celebrating its 55th anniversary, concentrates its efforts on an oral program rather than sign language or other options for the hearing impaired.
"Our goal is to have hearing aids on babies by the time they are 3 months old," Ansley said. "At least by 6 months at the latest. We want to stimulate the auditory nerve with speech and language first."
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, hearing loss is one of the most frequently occurring birth defects. About three babies in 1,000 are born with moderate, profound or severe hearing loss each year.
If not detected early, hearing loss can slow speech, language and cognitive development.
The non-profit center has seven pre-school and kindergarten classes; two classes for babies as young as 6 weeks, and four classes for toddlers, on a sliding fee scale. If a child needs to have the therapies offered at the center, Ansley said she would find a way to make that happen.
Most of the classes have hearing and impaired students learning together. Ansley said of the 152 students, about 40 percent are what she calls typical, hearing students.
The impaired students receive speech and hearing therapy individually as well as the regular classroom education.
All of that occurs on the lower level of the more than 70,000-square-foot building that once was Julia R. Ewan Elementary School. The Audiology Clinic is set up on the top level serving clients 6 weeks of age and older from 66 counties. One recent appointment was made by a potential client who is 100 years old.
"We have one elementary school child as a client as well as her grandparent," Ansley said.
The clinic offers diagnostic evaluations and hearing-aid services for all ages, and cochlear implant services for children.
"The early intervention piece is so important to older adults as well," said J. Colby Ernest, the center's development officer. He said there are studies linking hearing loss in adults to other diseases.
May is Better Hearing & Speech Month. To celebrate, the center is hosting an open house May 19-21 when hearing evaluations can be scheduled. When you make the appointment, the receptionist can help determine insurance coverage.
On May 12, Dr. Janet Wolfson, audiologist at the center, will discuss "Healthy Hearing Linked to Healthy Aging," and a free lunch will be served.
Ansley will be celebrating the month not only as a professional but also as a mother of a deaf child.
Before becoming the executive director four years ago, Ansley brought her son to the center as a client. He was among the first wave of babies diagnosed under the 2000 Kentucky law. "We came here by the time he was 2 months old and he got his first hearing aids when he was 6 months old," she said.
All the young children receive hearing aids first. Some may later progress to cochlear implants, a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to some of those who are profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.
While Ansley's son was not a candidate for an implant, Grider's was. Kenton received an implant when he was 2 years old. The earliest recommended age for implants is 12 months.
Grider and her husband wanted Kenton, who has an implant and a hearing aid, to first have the listening and spoken language skills before learning sign as a second language.
"Babies will get lazy," Grider said. "Babies have to consciously listen. That's harder to do."
She will alert Kenton to the sound of rain which he has to concentrate on and focus to hear, she said. That can be tiring. Kenton will learn signing later.
But for now, Kenton's speech sounds normal thanks to the early intervention.
"The quality of his voice is such that you would not know he is deaf," she said.
She knows new parents may be confused by all the information about hearing impairment and the new technology that is available. She and other parents have started Little Peeps Play Group, a support group for parents, siblings and the hearing impaired. They meet on the fourth Saturday, and dates and times can be found on the group's Facebook page.
"It is comforting to talk with someone who has walked in your shoes," she said. "We get you. We've been there."
It's similar to the vibe she receives from the center.
"I could get emotional talking about the center," Grider said. "They are our second family. They are our home away from home. "It is an all-in-one center that provides excellent service."