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Hearing problems affect many families

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
May 13, 2002
Because May is designated as Better Hearing and Speech Month, The Meridian Star editorial board recently met and discussed hearing and speech issues with a group of experts.
Those who attended the meeting were Adrian T. Mosley, president elect of the Mississippi Speech-Language-Hearing Association; Annette Wimberly, executive director of the Meridian Speech and Hearing Center; and Trina Thompson, coordinator of audiological services at Meridian Speech and Hearing Center.
The Meridian Star: Tell us about Better Hearing and Speech Month.
Mosley: It's been celebrated for 75 years by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. The emphasis this year is more with children. The theme is "Healthy Communication is Very Important."
The Meridian Star: How important is communication when dealing with children?
Mosley: Children have to hear the sounds before they are able to speak. They have to formulate the sounds they hear. When they are doing baby talk, they are practicing speech.
Thompson: Anything that affects the hearing, whether it be fluid in the ears or a hearing loss, affects the way the child hears sounds around them and it can affect the development of their speech and language. Studies show children who have frequent middle-ear problems, like fluid in the ears, when that is corrected they are not learning to listen the same way other children do.
When the fluid's present, they don't hear the little background noises around them, they only hear the louder sounds. When the fluid clears up and they hear all the sounds around them, chairs scraping and other noises, they don't know how to listen for what they need to hear in the classroom. So we're finding that children who have had middle-ear problems as infants, when they move into the second- and third-grade levels when instruction goes from Do as I show you,' to Do as I tell you,' those children have more difficulty.
Wimberly: One thing we try to emphasize during this month is early intervention for any type of communicative disorder. Something we as Mississippians can be proud of is that this state pioneered the field of universal newborn hearing screening in the hospital. Any babies who fail the crib screening are referred to audiologists for follow up. If they show any detectable hearing loss or require any other follow up, that is reported to the state Department of Health in Jackson. Mississippi is still in the top 10 in the quality of the program that's in place.
Mosley: Speech and language pathologists also work with the Head Start centers, public and private schools, to test children.
The Meridian Star: How many people are affected by speech, language or hearing problems?
Wimberly: It is identified as the largest disabling condition in the country because of all the types of disorders and the wide range of ages affected. The last estimate was about 42 million people nationally. That translates to about 32,000 people in East Mississippi and West Alabama, or one in 10 families who have a member with some type of communicative disorder.
The Meridian Star: What role does the Mississippi Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the Meridian Speech and Hearing Center play in battling these problems?
Mosley: The association has about 600 members who are speech-language pathologists and audiologists. It is a state organization under the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. We promote better speech, language and hearing services as professionals.
We also work with education in high schools and medical settings. We work with legislators to promote better laws for speech and language pathologists and audiologists and for better services in our communities.
In this area we have about 50 speech and language pathologists and audiolologists in public schools, Head Start, hospitals and nursing homes. The association is the best source in the state for continuing education.
Wimberly: Meridian Speech and Hearing Center is a not-for-profit, free standing community clinic. We are an area United Way agency and we offer a wide range of services for speech and hearing disorders. We dispense hearing aids and deliver various services. We work in conjunction with school and hospital therapists and refer patients back and forth.
The Meridian Star: Where does your funding come from?
Mosley: In the public schools, most of it comes from the federal government. But for the elderly it could be through Medicare, and, with some of the children, Medicaid.
The Meridian Star: Has the state's money problems affected you?
Mosley: It does impact us in the long run because if the services aren't there for Medicare and Medicaid they might diminish services for speech and language. So far we haven't had a problem, but that's one reason we keep aware of state legislation and (are) an advocate for communication services.

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