Opening New Worlds for the Deaf
The Auditory/Oral School of New York was founded in 1999 by Pnina Bravmann, an outgrowth of her personal experiences. In 1992, while she was a speech pathologist and pregnant, she was working with a child who, unbeknown to her, had the German measles. Shortly thereafter, her child was born deaf. Bravmann bravely mainstreamed her child from the outset, irrespective of the fact that she was doing it alone, without the supportive services she now offers to hundreds of deaf children in New York City.
The Auditory/Oral School offers programs for children who suffer from a language delay, whether they are profoundly deaf, slightly deaf, or normal with two deaf parents. By the time the children are 5 years old, about 97 percent of them are mainstreamed into regular classes, which is the ultimate goal of the school. The 3 percent who may not be mainstreamed are often cases in which the language delay was identified late. The students undergo a multidisciplinary evaluation, of not just auditory skills, but also sensory and motor/balance skills. Methods of education vary, highlighting auditory, verbal, listening and language skills. Teachers wear microphone headsets to enhance the sound of their voices. Even exercise related activities and games require communication: for instance, differentiating a green beanbag from a red one. All the teachers at the school are certified in the field, but Michelle Bornfeld, the Supervisor of the Speech Therapy Department, made it clear that the efforts of the certified staff are not enough. What is needed is the commitment of time and energy from parents. It is essential that parents act as primary facilitators, by coming to the school on a regular basis to learn teaching strategies so that they can be reinforced at home. “Having the parents buy into this philosophy is essential to making it happen,” Bornfeld asserted. One fascinating aspect of the school, a testament to its commitment to helping families, is that it offers pictures of events in the school day for parents with busy work schedules. This way, the parents can study the pictures and try to reinforce exercises at home. Another clear philosophy of the school is to force the students to think, and not pamper them because of their impediments. This attitude is a major reason for their high success rate.
Creating independent thinkers is how the school gauges its success. During our visit we were introduced to Chana Sklar, the mother of two beautiful 17-month-old twin girls, Dvorah and Hadassah. The baby girls are healthy and were playing water games with their classmates. A very different scene would have faced the viewer only one year ago when Mrs. Sklar turned to the Auditory/Oral School with many questions and concerns as to how the twins would succeed in a “hearing” world. The school, in a massive team effort, helped the young mother and her daughters cope with their deafness by first performing a comprehensive and extensive evaluation; the girls were diagnosed profoundly deaf and the decision was made for them to receive cochlear implants, a procedure where the damaged auditory nerve is replaced with a wire that is threaded through the eardrum into the nerve. A microphone is attached at the outer end, increasing the capability of noise traveling through the eardrum and nerves. Mrs. Sklar openly admits, “I did not know what decisions needed to be made until I came here.”
Through the services of the Auditory/Oral School the twins participate in parent-child groups, offered to children under the age of two, where they have the opportunity to socialize and learn with their peers, while their mom is provided with tools to enhance the children’s learning at home. Their teacher focuses on improving language, listening, cognitive, speech and socialization skills. In every classroom there are colors, words, shapes and any additional tool to boost child’s sensory skills.
The Auditory/Oral School of New York uses advanced technology and expertise along with open-minded thinking to facilitate the incorporation of families and children into a hearing society, enabling them to enjoy a fulfilling life.#