EHDI Annual Meeting: A Great Opportunity for Sharing and Collaboration

This blog post is written by NEN’s Parent Infant Program Coordinator Camilla Strauss.

I had the opportunity to attend the 15th Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) Annual Meeting in sunny San Diego, CA from March 13-15, 2016.

For more than fifteen years, the EHDI program has provided funding for early hearing detection and intervention programs nationwide and in the U.S. territories. EHDI was responsible for the development of Universal Newborn Hearing Screening that began in Vermont in 2003.

The ultimate goal of the EHDI program is to ensure that every child develops communication and social skills commensurate with their cognitive abilities.  This is accomplished by identifying hearing loss by at least 3 months of age and providing for early intervention services by 6 months of age.

Studies have shown that before 2003, the average age of identification of hearing loss nationwide was 3-­​4 years of age, though some evidence indicates that it was closer to 6­-8​ years of age! In 2014, 71% of Vermont children with hearing loss were identified by 3 months of age. VT’s EHDI program is working hard to increase that figure to 90%.

The EDHI program has made a huge difference in how soon children are able to access language and intervention services. Now, children are being fit with hearing aids or cochlear implants at a much younger age and able to access language (spoken and signed) during the critical language learning years–birth to three.

The annual EHDI Meeting provides an opportunity to identify areas of concern, promote collaboration and share best practices among stakeholders. Participants range from state and local programs to the federal level and from academicians to families.

Our Vermont contingency was comprised of seven people: representatives of the Vermont Department of Health, EHDI Program, myself as a representative of Nine East Network, and a parent and two members of the Deaf community, including one who is on the Vermont Deaf, Hard of Hearing and DeafBlind Advisory Council.

From early morning to late evening, there were countless opportunities for collaboration, instructional sessions, inspiring plenary sessions and, of course, the impressive exhibit hall to scope out.

I thought there was a good balance of sessions that represented the various communication approaches.  I noticed many early intervention programs presenting on ways to inform parents about communication options in an unbiased way.

There were two plenary speakers I found particularly inspiring.

The first one was Leah Katz ­Hernandez. Leah is a young, accomplished, deaf woman, who works as the West Wing Receptionist for President Obama. She is a strong advocate for civil rights of the deaf.

She spoke about the three generations of women in her family who worked towards early intervention advocacy from the 1950s to the present day. Click here to listen to Leah’s speech at the EHDI Annual Meeting.

The second inspiring speaker at the EHDI Annual meeting was Rachel Coleman. Rachel is the creator of the musical series, “Signing Time” and the mother of a deaf daughter.

Rachel’s speech took us through her family’s journey of raising their daughter, from diagnosis at 14 months through adulthood. She had the audience laughing and crying much of the way. Click here to hear Rachel’s speech at the EHDI Annual Meeting.

All in all, it was a wonderful learning experience. I brought back to Vermont a renewed excitement for the work I do providing early intervention services to families and children through the Parent Infant Program.