SIOUX FALLS, SD -
There are plenty of camps for Boy Scouts and athletes, but until recently, there weren't many options for kids who are deaf or hard of hearing. But the summer enrichment program at Augustana College is bringing these children together like never before.
David Dingman is a typical, curious, active four-year-old. He also struggles with hearing loss, as do the other children at the summer enrichment program for deaf and hard of hearing students.
"It has been exceptional for David. I have two older kids who've also taken advantage of it, but David especially," David's mother Joanna Dingman said.
David isn't deaf, but he doesn't communicate verbally at all. In fact, it wasn't until this camp, where he saw other kids signing, that he was able to really communicate for the first time.
"I noticed he was trying to get my attention, he was showing me in the sky, an airplane,” Dingman said. “He was showing me in his own way. That's really the first expressive sign he's used that has a meaning. It brought tears to my eyes."
The children come from communities all over South Dakota; some are large and some are small. But no matter where they live, they often feel isolated because of the hearing loss.
"You go to a public place, you have three children wearing hearing aids, and people go, 'What's wrong with your kids?'" Dingman said.
"To see, I'm not the only one who uses American Sign Language. I'm not the only one who uses an interpreter. They have a bond with someone else their own age," Augustana College ASL Teacher Carmen Steen said.
Steen helped develop the camp, which runs the whole month of July. For a few hours a day, students learn to sign, go on field trips, and apply what they’ve learned in playtime and conversation.
The camp was made possible through a grant from the state office of special education, and is a joint effort with Augustana College, South Dakota Parent Connection, and Communication Services for the Deaf.
For Dingman and the other families who've taken part, it's meant so much to see the kids playing together, and communicating in their own special way.
"This program has taught me there's nothing wrong with my kids. They're absolutely beautiful children with a lot to offer the world," Dingman said.
This is the second year for the program, and it's growing. Organizers are even offering chances for families to get together a handful of times during the school year. For more information, contact Carmen Steen at email@example.com
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