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WMU receives $300,000 gift to help children hear

June 25, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Imagine not being able to hear people talk clearly. Now imagine that you're a baby or a toddler.

You may never learn how to speak like other children.

With that idea in mind, the Carls Foundation of Detroit has given a $300,000 gift to the Western Michigan University Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology to provide expanded services and programs for infants and young children with hearing impairments, including those with cochlear implants, in the WMU Unified Clinics.

The number of children with hearing deficiencies is large. It is estimated that two out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born profoundly deaf, numbers that have not changed for decades. What is changing, though, is the number of those children under a year of age who are screened, diagnosed with a hearing loss and whose families are counseled regarding communication options, including hearing aids and cochlear implants.

Cochlear implants are electronic devices that mimic the function of delicate cells in the inner ear. The implants have long been endorsed for adults, but until recently their use in young children has been limited. Studies published in the last two years, however, have delivered what many experts say is conclusive evidence that the devices are safe in babies and toddlers and allow most children to develop spoken language like that of their peers.

"Once professionals determine through assessments that a baby is a candidate for an implant and the family makes that choice, early intervention services help to achieve the best speech and language outcomes," says Dr. Ann Tyler, chair of the WMU Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology. "Recent research shows quite remarkable outcomes for those implanted at the youngest ages. It is crucial, however, that the speech-language pathologists and audiologists working with these young children have received specialized training in working with this young population. This is another initiative of the grant, to educate a new cadre of professionals."

Tyler says the availability of professionals who have the expertise to program and fit cochlear implants and who can provide the necessary follow-up rehabilitation services is limited in southwest Michigan and throughout the United States. And many families can't afford the costs associated with these services.

The WMU Unified Clinics will address this problem by offering programming services for cochlear implants, early intervention services for infants and children with hearing impairments and professional preparation training for speech language pathologists, audiologists and early interventionists. The Charles Van Riper Language, Speech and Hearing Clinics within the Unified Clinics currently offers many services to community residents, regardless of their ability to pay and, with the help of the Carls Foundation, will expand its services to improve communication outcomes for children with hearing loss.

William Carls, a German immigrant who made his fortune in the booming Detroit industrial scene of the early 20th century, spent a lifetime giving back to the charitable organizations he loved. More than a decade following his passing, he continues to have an impact through The Carls Foundation, located in downtown Detroit.

This isn't the first time the Carls Foundation has helped children with hearing problems in the Kalamazoo area. A foundation grant three years ago to the Charles Van Riper Language, Speech and Hearing Clinic was used to purchase equipment allowing audiology graduate students to diagnose hearing loss in infants and young children born in Kalamazoo.

Tyler notes that the strong relationship WMU has established with the Carls Foundation has developed through a mutual focus on key ingredients for improving the lives of young children with hearing impairment.

"The Carls Foundation has helped the Charles Van Riper Language, Speech and Hearing Clinic and the Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology to grow services and programs that otherwise would not have been possible and for their support, we are so grateful," Tyler says.

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Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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