Bevin’s budget threatens ‘sound beginning’ for children deaf, hard of hearing

From left, Edward, Mary and Kenneth Freeman.
From left, Edward, Mary and Kenneth Freeman.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s biennial budget proposes eliminating all state funding for 70 programs. Although many of them have ties to education, two, in particular, hit home for our family: the elimination of funding for the Lexington Hearing and Speech Center and the Heuser Hearing Institute’s Hearing and Language Academy in Louisville — programs that support the development of listening and spoken language skills in deaf and hard of hearing children.

As the parents of three children, two of whom are deaf and hear with cochlear implants, we can attest to the impact of services provided by the LHSC on our sons, Kenneth and Edward.

Kenneth had just turned three when he was diagnosed with progressive bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and was fitted with his first hearing aids by a competent and compassionate audiologist at LHSC. As hearing parents with no experience with hearing loss in our family histories, we were overwhelmed and bewildered at how to navigate the uncharted territory of raising a child with hearing loss who, due to the progressive nature of his hearing loss, ultimately would become deaf.

The professionals at LHSC provided us with the information and confidence, support and guidance that we needed to embark on a path of early intervention that would ensure Kenneth, and his brother Edward, who received the same diagnosis a short three years later, could have the same opportunity for academic success as their hearing peers.

According to data from the Kentucky Department of Education, during the 2016-2017 school year, 631 Kentucky students age six to 21 were identified as hearing impaired, with the vast majority of those mainstreamed in regular public schools.

This is similar to national statistics which show that 85 percent of deaf and hard of hearing children spend all or part of their school day in regular schools. Nationally, the academic achievement of deaf and hard of hearing children lags behind that of their hearing peers with the most recent data showing a significant achievement gap in reading and math proficiency as evidenced by standardized test scores. In 2003, the latest year in which comprehensive data were reviewed, median performance of 17-year olds was the equivalent of fourth grade in reading comprehension and sixth grade in mathematical problem solving.

Recently, in trying to understand and explain these achievement gaps, researchers have shown that across all subject areas, attending regular secondary schools and having better spoken language were associated with higher standardized test scores.

Early intervention and pre-school programs at LHSC and HHI, which focus on the development of listening and speaking skills, prepare deaf and hard of hearing children for these mainstream experiences, ultimately paving the way for their academic success in mainstream public-school settings.

Just this December, Kenneth completed a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Sydney. Edward is finishing his senior year at Transylvania University and will graduate in May with degrees in exercise science and sociology. We firmly believe that the “sound beginning” they received at LHSC set the stage for their later academic success.

We implore our state legislators to recognize the value of services provided by LHSC and the HHI in Louisville and restore the relatively small amount of state funding they have historically received. By investing in these programs, you are investing in the future of Kentucky’s deaf and hard of hearing children far beyond graduation.

Patricia and Ken Freeman live in Lexington.