The Sertoma Speech & Hearing Foundation of Florida Inc., has put a van on the road to expand its ability to provide early intervention for children with hearing loss.
The organization, headquartered in New Port Richey, serves the entire state.
It added the van so it could provide pediatric hearing screenings and evaluations, as well as fitting and dispensing of hearing aids, in rural and under-served communities.
“It’s part of our mission for early identification of hearing loss,” said Debra Golinski, executive director of the Sertoma Foundation. “We’ve always tried to serve the entire state of Florida, and in order to do that more effectively, the mobile van was the answer for us,” she said.
The van makes scheduled stops at day care centers across the state, to allow for screening of children who are infants through age 5, Golinski said.
If a child doesn’t pass the first time, a rescreening is scheduled. If the child still doesn’t pass, the parents are asked to have the child’s primary care physician do a check.
“We discover there’s about 20 percent that need further testing. Sometimes it’s fluid in the ear. Sometimes it’s ear wax. There are different reasons that they don’t pass. That’s why we have to refer back to the primary care,” Golinski said.
“If they indeed need hearing aids, we have an audiologist who will come back to do the fitting and dispensing at a very reduced rate,” she said.
There are clues that a child may have hearing loss, she said.
If your child isn’t paying attention to you, there may be a hearing issue, Golinski said. Or, “if they don’t respond to what you’re talking about, if they don’t respond to noises,” she said.
Sometime, hearing loss isn’t easy to spot, she added.
“Children adapt. We’ve found kids that were completely deaf in one ear, but they adapted. The family never knew.
“It’s just like anything else, you learn to adapt. That’s why we take the initiative to make sure they’re screened,” Golinski said.
The idea is to help children who need it, as soon as possible.
When children can’t hear, they can be at a disadvantage in developing their vocabulary and speaking skills, she said.
By intervening early, help can be provided to help children avoid learning delays and can minimize or eliminate the need for special education, she said.
“When they hit kindergarten, our goal is that they will mainstream,” Golinksi said, rather than requiring special education services.
Golinski said the response to the mobile van, which was added last fall, has been tremendous.
“I’ve never been upstaged by a van so much in my life,” she said, with a laugh.
“We’ve screened over 2,000 children since we started,” she said, noting the van has traveled to more than a dozen counties, including Pasco, Hernando, Citrus, Clay, Levy, Marion, Lake, Seminole and Brevard, among others.
“We are doing great things with one van. We’d love to have more. My vision is that we would have seven vans across the state, doing this,” Golinski said.
She hopes that can be accomplished within a few years.
For more information about this program, or to help provide funding or a van to expand the services, call (727) 312-3881.
Published January 10, 2018