👂 The NJ Dept.of Education does not provide kids with hearing aids until age 3

👂 But children 3 and under with hearing loss need immediate care

👂 One NJ hearing loss center has vowed to do that for the past three decades

MOUNTAIN LAKES — Founded in 1996, Sound Start Foundation in the Morris County borough was born, with a mission to support educational and therapeutic programs to help babies and toddlers with hearing loss, and their families, lead full and successful lives.

The New Jersey Department of Education does not supply children and their families with hearing aids until the age of three, according to Bromme Cole, CEO of Sound Start Foundation.

But children under the age of three still need help. The Sound Start Foundation is a school program that helps these children deal with hearing loss.

Cole said a local teacher, Dr. Laura S. McKirdy president, Sound Start Babies, is largely responsible for founding this organization. Cole said Mountain Lakes has a long history of providing education at the middle and high school levels for kids who are hard of hearing.

The Sound Start Foundation has helped thousands of babies with hearing loss to listen, speak, communicate and achieve their full potential.

“Today, after 30 years, we have graduated close to 1,600 kids into first grade,” Cole said.

Teachers helping kids at Sound Start Foundation, Mountain Lakes, NJ
Teachers helping kids at Sound Start Foundation, Mountain Lakes, NJ

Early Intervention

If babies with hearing loss do not receive therapy during the most critical years of brain development, newborn to age 3, irreversible delays in speech and learning can occur, Cole said. For the rest of their lives, these children will trail behind their peers.

“Early intervention is absolutely critical to a young person’s development and if we cannot reach them at 18 months and provide them with a couple of years worth of listening and spoken language, and teaching our LENA technologies that we give the kids, then they will not graduate from our program on level with their peers,” Cole said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears.

The 30-year-old non-profit’s exclusive function is to provide early intervention and educational programs for kids who were born hard of hearing or deaf, Cole said.

Whether it’s a hearing aid or an implant, there are federal monies available for them. So, there is no reason a child should go without a device if they need one, he added.

However, byzantine income requirements force many NJ families to pay for their child’s hearing aids as insurance rarely covers 100%.

Sound Start Foundation, Mountain Lakes, NJ
Sound Start Foundation, Mountain Lakes, NJ

Programs at Sound Start Foundation

There are currently 20 teachers on staff at Sound Start Foundation in Mountain Lakes.
There are music therapy classes and physical and occupational therapists on hand, and any child who enters the program will receive an array of education including the LENA technology which is a little recording device that fits in a child’s pocket.

Throughout the day, the device records the things that are said to that child and things the child says so teachers can get a good handle on exactly what that child is being exposed to, what they’re comprehending, and how they’re responding.

“This is one of the most brilliant pieces of technology out there today to help a child who's born with hearing loss,” Cole said.

Going Forward

There are children in some of the more densely populated parts of New Jersey such as the Newark-Union-Essex County area, as well as the Trenton-Camden-Burlington County area. The goal is to bring the Sound Start Foundation programs to those areas because they are underserved, Cole said.

They are also beginning to lay the groundwork for building a mobile audiological unit. This is a large truck that has audiological testing materials equipment inside it.

“With that type of a vehicle, we could all the way down to Glassboro and Vineland. Even though those are less populated areas, with two to three kids per 1,000 born hard of hearing, there’s still a population down there that needs the type of early intervention that we provide,” Cole said.

For more on The Sound Start Foundation, visit their website at www.soundstartfdn.org.

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