SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — According to the Centers for Disease Control, nearly two out of every 1,000 babies are born deaf or hard of hearing. Early detection and treatment are crucial for these young children.
For decades, the South Dakota School for the Deaf has been actively serving this community.
18 years ago, Hope Bader gave birth to her daughter Emma at just 25 weeks old. She’s one of the smallest babies ever born in South Dakota.
“This was her blood pressure cuff. So this went around her arm. My husband’s wedding ring went all the way up to her shoulder,” Hope Bader said.
On top of being born premature, Emma also got sick while in the hospital. During that time Emma became profoundly deaf. Her family was quickly connected to the South Dakota School for the Deaf.
“We would be lost, honestly. If we hadn’t had that contact and that ability to get that information that we needed,” Bader said.
The South Dakota School for the Deaf was established in 1880 to serve children with hearing loss.
About ten years ago the program went through a restructuring and many believed the school was gone.
“In 2009, when we shifted to all outreach that was one thing we wanted to get out so badly to get out to everybody was that we are still open. I’ve been working here for 22 years now, and we have been open the whole time,” Kim Wadsworth, SDSD Director of Outreach, said.
SDSD no longer has kids living in the dorms, which are now occupied by SDSU Extension offices. However, they do offer regular classes, group activities and free screenings to any child under 18 years old in the state.
“That early detection is so important for babies, but I do want to stress that hearing loss can occur at any time. So if you have concerns with your child’s hearing or their speech and language development, please contact the School for the Deaf and we’ll get them in and get them tested,” Sarah Johnson said.
Johnson is an audiologist for SDSD. She screens kids who might be showing signs of hearing impairment, but you don’t have to live in Sioux Falls to get these services.
The SDSD Mobile Lab travels all over the state, offering screenings to kids in areas that might not have the same resources as the bigger cities.
“It’s nice to be able to bring those services out into areas where you know, they’re under-served. They just don’t have access to an audiologist,” Johnson said.
“It’s tough to find an interpreter. It’s tough to get some of those services there, but we try really hard using technology,” Wadsworth said.
Things like video chat have been life-changing for kids who may not grow up in a community equipped to help someone with a hearing impairment. Something Bader says is a very real fear for parents everywhere.
“You know, now okay. She’s profoundly deaf. So what does that mean her life is going to look like? And you really just don’t have any idea, because you’re not deaf. You don’t have contact with people that are deaf at that point in your life. So just to have that knowledge and to have those support people to say, nope it will be okay,” Bader said.
Thanks to SDSD connections, Emma is off to college next year to learn to be an elementary school teacher.
Those who helped bring her to this point say that’s their mission; to make sure kids with hearing loss have the same skills and opportunities as other kids.
“It’s all about the relationship. You need to have a good relationship with the families. Learn to trust each other and our strategic plan, our mission, is we’re partners in educational success. That’s with everybody. With parents, with stakeholders, with deaf community. We just really want to partner with everybody for the needs of our kids,” Wadsworth said.
The School for the Deaf has a lot of activities coming this summer. You can read more about those, and how to set up a free hearing screening for your child, by contacting South Dakota School for the Deaf.