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Battling the Invisible Disability

Battling the Invisible Disability

By Shelley Hoss

The ConnectOC Blog is a place for sharing insight, information and examples of how Orange County residents, donors and nonprofits are working to build a brighter, stronger, more vibrant community.  We welcome you to share your thoughts by commenting below.


By age 3, Adelynn’s world had begun to grow silent.

Not only did the fun-loving tot suffer from progressive sensory-neural hearing loss, she belonged to a population of children who did not show their disability outwardly. Addie’s seemingly “normal” development enveloped the toddler and her family in another kind of silence — the vacuum created when critical needs remain undiscovered and unmet.

Many hearing-enabled people simply don’t understand hearing loss. They might think a hearing-impaired child is nonresponsive, nonverbal or simply tuning out. And the unfortunate consequence of these missed cues is that simple and effective interventions are never introduced, causing both children and their families unnecessary suffering and developmental delays. 

That’s precisely why the work of Providence Speech and Hearing Center in Orange is so important.  Although the center conducted nearly 100,000 appointments at its six Orange County locations and one in Los Angeles in 2014, they are still working to see an additional 1,500 patients currently on their waiting list.

“The national statistic for hearing loss is 3 per 1,000 babies screened, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Hearing Screening and Follow-up Survey,” Linda H. Smith, RN, BSN, PHN, CEO of Providence Speech and Hearing Center said. “Among our population, 16 percent of babies have some type of hearing loss. It’s one of the most-common congenital defects.”

Addie is just one of the roughly 300 children who walk every day through the doors of the center. As they enter, they don’t realize how much their silent world of limited hearing or total loss impedes them, Smith added.

“Language is the foundation for literacy,” Smith said. “Every study shows us that children who have hearing impairment will not progress as well educationally. But we know early intervention works. If we can intervene before six months of age and fit babies with hearing devices, they still will develop speech and language skills on target.”

Smith is referring to CDC-referenced studies that recommend babies diagnosed with hearing loss should begin to get intervention services as soon as possible, but no later than 6 months of age.

But even when the center treats older children, the results are remarkable. Take Josh as an example. 

His doctors diagnosed him with potential hearing loss at age 2 and fitted him with a hearing aid, which served him for a decade because his family couldn’t afford replacement devices. The center granted him new hearing aids — and a new way of life.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, Providence Speech and Hearing Center offers one-of-a-kind experiences like Addie’s and Josh’s, where patients receive care with advanced technology in a supportive, optimistic atmosphere. 

“Every day, we make a difference in a child’s life. We get to see them hear their parents for the first time,” Smith said. “We help families see the light at the end of the tunnel, and that inspiration allows patients to no longer be defined by their hearing loss.”

To learn more about local nonprofits helping Orange County’s children with hearing loss, visit Nonprofit Central.

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Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at shoss@oc-cf.org

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