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Greetings from FIRST YEARS ...
by Kathryn Wilson, M.A., CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT (
FIRST YEARS Program Director

... and from South Vietnam!
As last summer, I am currently joining FIRST YEARS colleagues - graduates, faculty, and mentors - in a training program in Vietnam. We will certainly have more to say about this in the next edition. But as I ponder over this issue, which we are calling a "Paying It Forward" edition, I am struck by the enormous impact FIRST YEARS has made.

As programs go, FIRST YEARS is a small program. The entry requirements are high, and the courses are challenging. Certainly, our students are making a local difference, including and often introducing more auditory-verbal strategies in classroom and therapy settings. But the Becky & Kathryn on the Mekongreach extends way beyond, as you will learn in this issue. For example:

Two of our students have been instrumental in getting legislation passed at the state level (Massachusetts and Indiana).

Three of our students presented at the recent AG Bell Biennial Convention, where we held a FIRST YEARS reunion. 

Another student and faculty member are involved in translating FIRST YEARS training materials in Spanish to use with our increasingly diverse client-base.

And, at present, several of us are in South Vietnam, participating in the Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss.

So thank you, FIRST YEARS students, for being agents of change, for "paying it forward." Enjoy the issue!

FIRST YEARS Reunion: AG Bell Biennial Convention, June 28 - July 2, 2012
AG Bell's Biennial Convention was the occasion for an informal get-together for the FIRST YEARS "family." On Saturday afternoon, June 30, several of our current students, graduates, course instructors, and mentors gathered at the beautiful Rim Lobby Lounge to enjoy the amazing views, a few refreshments and the opportunity to make new and renew old acquaintances. 

During the 2010 Convention, Debbie Ludwig (class of 2011) hosted a similar gathering at her parents' timeshare in Orlando. Those who attended immediately began asking if we could do the same during the 2012 Scottsdale meeting. Although the days and evenings were jam-packed with short courses, concurrent sessions, exhibits, and social events, we managed to carve out a short time for FIRST YEARS attendees to meet face-to-face. If the level of chatter, laughter, and smiles on faces was an indicator of enjoyment, then without a doubt a great time was had by all! Let's do it again in 2014!

Such a good-looking bunch.smiles!
Such a good looking bunch!

Other occasions for celebration at the convention? Three of our graduates made presentations:
  1. Chris Barton. ('11) & Robbins, A.M. Music, Language and Literacy: Mother Goose Revisited.
  2. Ann Baumann. ('07) & Zegar, M. Utilizing Coaching to Optimize Self-Advocacy Development.
  3. Sherri Fickenscher. ('07). Parenting and Teaching with Love & Logic
And the convention marked leadership transitions for two of FIRST YEARS faculty members Don Goldberg and Lyn Robertson, now presidents of AG Bell Association and the AG Bell Academy, respectively.

The convention marked leadership transitions for two of FIRST YEARS faculty members Don Goldberg and Lyn Robertson.

Paying it forward: Impacting State Legislature
Typically when we hear back from our students, we learn of successes fairly close to home, in transitioning their own, local therapy settings to include more auditory-verbal strategies. But two have recently reported their participation at the state level, helping to get hearing loss legislation passed.

Tracy Vale (class of 2012) recently updated us about her participation in the "push" to pass Massachusetts House Bill H00052 "An Act to Provide Access to Hearing Aids for Children." The bill would provide up to $2,000 per hearing aid (plus related services), every 36 months, for children up to 21 years of age. Tracy, with other hearing professionals and parents with children with hearing loss, had gone to the statehouse to testify. 

Reported in a forum (5/20/11): "Some clever moms had scoured their insurance policies for what IS covered and revealed some fairly interesting facts, such as one woman can get her husband Viagra but can't obtain hearing aids for her child." One 10-year-old boy, whose sister is Tracy's patient, testified: "My sister is only 2 years old and I have already seen her go through so much in her short life. She deserves everything the same as I do being a hearing child. When I play with my sister, I know when she has her hearing aids in because she talks more and does better. I am her big brother and it is my job to protect my little sister. Please pass bill 52 for my sister." 

The real driving force, according to Tracy, has been the Massachusetts Hearing Aids for Children Coalition (MassHAFCC), spearheaded by 7 mothers:

One of these women is a parent of a child on my caseload ... When I met the mom, her child was not wearing her hearing aids and she wasn't sure they even helped.  We limped along a bit from the spring of 2010 to the Fall of 2010.  During the Survey course Ellen [Thomas, co-instructor] suggested I sit down and review the family's goals and explain to them that I couldn't help them get there if the child wasn't going to wear her hearing aids.  From that point on she kept the hearing aids on her daughter and now is one of the biggest driving forces behind the bill in Massachusetts to obtain hearing aids for all children through private insurance.  Her connections and drive have really made a difference because I do believe this is the third attempt and the bill has never got as far as it is right now.  People fully expect this bill to pass in July...we'll see!!!!!  (5/22/12).
We asked Tracy if the mother, Kim LaBrecque, would fill us in from her perspective (6/3/12):
Tia Shay LaBrecqueOur daughter, Tia Shay LaBrecque (seen at right), was detected at birth as having a moderate flat 50 decibel bilateral sensorineural hearing loss through the Newborn Hearing Screenings which became a law in 1998.  She did not wear her hearing aids well at first.  She wanted to constantly take them out of her ears and teeth on them.  It was exhausting!  I felt almost like giving up and as she gets older then I will pursue it more.  It was then that, Tracy Vale, Tia's speech pathologist said to me "If she takes them out 100 times. You need to put them back in 101." That statement stuck with me to this day.  It was that moment that something inside me said, it really does make a difference and I need to comply with this.  It's not up to her but it's up to us as parents.  She now wears her hearing aids from the moment she wakes up until the second she goes to bed.  She now asks for them and tells me that "it's better" with them on.

After that, I found out that there was a coalition working towards mandating health insurance companies to cover hearing aids for children.  It is a huge cost ($5,000 per set) out of pocket for families, not to mention molds, batteries, cleaning supplies, etc......  It just wasn't fair to me.  I found the President of the Massachusetts Hearing Aids for Children Coalition (MassHAFCC) Lisa Adams through Facebook.  I was determined to become a part of this journey and make a difference in many MA families lives.  We spoke on the phone and it was at that time that I jumped on board with both feet and started my adventure. I stood outside of a Shaw's Supermarket and got over 600 signatures to support the bill.  I made countless phone calls and started setting up meetings at the State House to bring awareness to our  bill and what we were trying to achieve.  I was a stay-at-home mom at the time and dedicated about 40 hours a week to making this bill a reality.  This bill has been in the works for about 8 years now and I have been a part of it for the past 2 years.  The bill has never gotten this far.  I put myself out there to anyone and everyone who would listen to me and come to find out I knew more people than I even knew I did.  So, we now have a lobbying firm representing us pro-bono and multiple leaders at the State House on board in support of the bill and our efforts.  We have only 8 more weeks to get this bill passed and we are optimistic that it will pass and our efforts will be well worth the hard work we put into it.  I am just a mom, who loves her daughter more than anything in this world and I will stop at nothing to make her world a better place.

In an update, Kim reports: "We believe we have the numbers back regarding the cost of the bill and are awaiting it's release, so that we can move this bill forward to the House and then Senate floor.  We have [until the end of July] to get this done ... We are very excited and hopeful that THIS IS OUR YEAR !!!!!!!!"  (6/13/12)

As Tracy suggested to her classmates: "If you don't have legislation like this in your state, consider getting a group together to work on it; it's been a rewarding experience!" (5/20/11). 

To share with our readers, Kim has provided some of the materials she created, including a legislative fact sheet, flyer, and her testimony. She also consented to sharing her email, if you would like to contact her with specific questions ( Thank you, Kim! We look forward to celebrating the bill's passage!

Cooper's testimonyChris Barton (class of 2011) has worked toward getting legislation passed to create Indiana's new Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education. Three of Chris Barton's families/students actually testified, with many more attending the legislative sessions. Cooper Rigney (bilateral CI user) "wowed" the representatives: "Check out Cooper's testimony that he gave today in support of House Bill 1367 at Indiana's State House ... The video is taken with my iphone so he is kind of far away.  I asked him if he wanted me to go up and stand with him and he said 'No, I can do it by myself.'  As you can see in the video, you can only see the top of his head.  After it was over he told me, 'I wish they had a stool so everyone could see my face!'   He spoke in front of 250+ people!  So proud of him!!" (1/29/12)

The bill passed both the House and Senate and, soon, Indiana will have a new, non-biased Center to "ensure that children who are deaf and children who are hard of hearing acquire optimal language skills and academic abilities, regardless of the mode of communication used." (OMB, 2012). Until the Center is fully established, the Indiana School for the Deaf will continue to provide services. The final transition plan is due in October, 2012.

Gayla Hutsell Guignard (faculty), EHDI Coordinator, is acting as a consultant to the Office of Management & Budget on establishing the new Center. Kathryn Wilson has also kept in touch with Naomi Horton [Executive Director, Hear Indiana,  a chapter of AG Bell for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing] who by the way, is a UNC alum. As Kathryn commented in a forum: " ...very proud of my Indiana colleagues!!"  (1/31/12)

From FIRST YEARS Reference Library: The Spanish Project
Our culture's growing diversity, led by Hispanic populations, has implications for early intervention, particularly if English is not the primary language spoken in the home. Organizations, such as Beginnings for Parents of Children Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing, have begun addressing this need by adding Spanish-speaking outreach parent educators. In addition, many now provide full Spanish versions of their websites:

Check it outIn Spanish:
- Beginnings
- My Baby's Hearing

FIRST YEARS has recently joined in this trend, helping to make available Spanish versions of some of our teaching materials. "The Spanish Project" arose from an earlier project completed by Sherri Vernelson, co-instructor for Listening & Spoken Language Development & Intervention, and Emily Pratt (class of 2012). Together, they developed a data recording sheet to be used with our chart, "Bloom and Lahey's Normal Developmental Sequence of Expressive Language" -- both covered in our LSL course. Sherri shared the chart and recording sheet at a workshop, where they ultimately made their way to several Spanish-speaking AVTs. Their interest spawned the project, which is investigating translating the Bloom and Lahey categories and phases using Spanish grammatical structures, based on the natural and normal development of the Spanish language.

We thought you'd be interested in comparing the development of speech sounds in Spanish and English: 
Spanish English
Spanish Developmental Articulation Norms Developmental Ages for Sound Mastery
  Spanish Sound Development Chart Speech Sound Development Chart

As the translation proceeds, we will provide progress reports on Bloom-Lahey: Secuencia del Desarrollo Normal de Lenguaje Expresivo.

Update: "Best Ideas"-
In the last fyi edition we highlighted some resources for obtaining free books and reported strategies for acoustically retrofitting roomsAnn Baumann (class of 2007) wrote in to tell us about another possible funding source (5/8/12):
A resource I used this year that may be relevant to people who work in the public schools is I took a "Tech in the Classroom" class this past fall and while they were encouraging us to seek out a variety of funding sources, one of the things we had to do was write a grant to this organization. You write what you need and various funding sources (corporations, foundations, individuals) find you instead of you finding them. Donors Choose was endorsed by Oprah (so there you go!) and Steven Cobert is on the board (a double whammy!). It was a very straightforward process and things moved quickly and cleanly.

I wrote for a mobile media cart and was funded by a family (The Jollay Family Foundation) from Florida, who happens to have two children with hearing loss and one d/hh specialist in the family. The project spoke to them and it was so neat because here we are - a coast-to-coast relationship! I think my grant [classified under 'Special Needs'] was up for about 8 days total and the total cost was about $350. The title of my grant was "We've Got To Move it, Move It."

Teachers can send out their request to the families they serve and other individuals they believe would be supportive. 

One of the things that could limit specialists is that they have particular vendors they use, so your project sort of has to fit the places you can shop. Boy, do I wish hearing technology companies were part of the vendor list…oh the FM's we could buy! But they would certainly have fun rugs or other things that might have fit the project in the newsletter [making a therapy room more acoustically friendly].

As Kathryn responded to Ann: "... you got it right when you said 'our grads/students say it best.'" (5/8/12)

Update: "Data to back it up!"
And relating to another previous fyi edition, where we described how our students are preparing jargon-free handouts for families, with data supporting therapeutic goals ... Sherri Vernelson and Kathryn Wilson recently prepared another data-packed document. It's "hot off the press." 

check it outFIRST YEARS. (2012). Research Supporting Strong Oral Language and Vocabulary as Major Predictors of Reading, Literacy, and Academic Achievement. (Original compilation by Vernelson, S. & Wilson, K., 2011).

Update: Experience Book Club
Chris at the conventionDave Sindrey, along with FIRST YEARS graduate Chris Barton (class of 2011), is perhaps best known for creating materials for The Listening Room™ from Advanced Bionics. Since those days, he has branched out to offer materials from and, and now has created an Experience Book "Club" on Facebook. 

As Dave describes his first encounter with experience books, "I was introduced to experience books by my friend Mary Koch. She showed me beautiful notebooks full of precious mementos, drawings and photos of her family and their experiences. It was created for her children at the time these experiences were happening ... Experience books are different than scrap books. A stick drawing here, a significant bandaid there: their beauty is in the relationship to the child's own experience ... [they] are better than store bought books. The story you read to your child is his own."

In previous fyi editions we highlighted two tools to create language experience books -  Tar Heel Reader (spring 2010) and Tar Heel Player (spring 2011) - and even created an experience book ourselves, using sample pages from our students' books to illustrate how to use and create them. Check them out!

check it outDave Sindrey's Experience Book Club
FIRST YEARS. (2009). Language Experience Books

Names in the News
Upcoming workshops by our faculty and students
  1. Goldberg, D. International State of the Art Meeting on (Re)habilitation of Children and Adults using Cochlear Implants. 10th Anniversary of ONICI, the Independent Information Centre on Cochlear Implants, Antwerp, Belgium. Nov. 20-21, 2012.
  2. Heavner, K. & Vernelson, S. Bloom & Lahey I / CASLLS I: Roadmap to Language Development. Oct. 15-16, 2012. LSLS credit.
  3. Heavner, K. & Vernelson, S. Bloom & Lahey II / CASLLS II: Roadmap to Language Development. Dec. 4-5, 2012. LSLS credit.
  4. Teagle, H.F.B. & Roush, P.  ANSD. Sept. 11, 2012.
  5. Vernelson, S.  & Thompson, E. Auditory Function. Sept. 18-19, 2012.
  6. Walker, B. & Wilson, K.  Accelerated Growth For the Late Beginning Listener ... Transitions, Tools, Teams, & Tactics.  University of Akron. Sept. 14, 2012.
Recent publications by FIRST YEARS faculty, students, and mentors
    To subscribe to Talking Tips, send an email to:
  1. Rossi, K. Talking Tips, May, 2012. (Theme: "Verbs, verbs, verbs")
  2. Rossi, K. Talking Tips, June, 2012. (Theme: "Everyday Happenings")
  3. Rossi, K. Talking Tips, July, 2012. (Theme: "Playtime")
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© 2012, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill FIRST YEARS Certificate in Auditory Learning for Young Children with Hearing Loss. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in any medium for non-commercial purposes.
Publication date: July, 2012