Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The importance of special needs playgroups

At our first IEP meeting for Julia, Tim and I were determined to get her placed in an approved private school for the deaf. We thought that intense environment was the way we could be sure she would learn to speak. We were hungry for a sure thing.

The other part of the IEP team didn't see things our way. They told us about least restrictive environments and how it would be harmful for Julia to spend all of her time with deaf and hard of hearing kids. I couldn't imagine developing a network of friends with similar challenges being anything but a benefit.

Fortunately for those professionals involved in the meeting when my daughter was three, Julia did learn to talk. She impresses us with her completely intelligible speech during every waking moment of the day. I also made sure she connected with some friends that also have hearing loss.

I didn't give up on allowing Julia to makes some "magic ear" friends because of my own experience growing up as the single solitary child in southwestern Pennsylvania that wore a Milwaukee brace. I know that if it had been hearing aids rather than a scoliosis fixing appliance, I'd never have seen a person under the age of 60 with gear like mine. It's a bit lonely. There are times in life when an individual is the last thing you want to be.

We have a playgroup that meets regularly so we can keep in touch with kids that deal with every sort of hearing loss: unilateral, mild, profound, and Julia's severe. The kids use all kinds of equipment. They admire each other's newest selection in ear molds. The parents always have something to talk about.

Sharon Clougherty, director of early intervention for Achieva, was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette this May saying, "A decade ago, playgroups were a 'recognized and funded format' for children receiving state-funded early intervention services. They are no more. The state won't fund them."

Luckily, there's no funding necessary. All it takes is a little planning, some advertising, and a bit of help from the professionals that work with your child. The kind of support you get from group of families in a similar situation is well worth the work to start your own group. And if you and your deaf/hard of hearing child happen to live North of Pittsburgh, please join our group. We'll be happy to have you!

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