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 Getting to Know SDCOE: Audiology Team Opens Doors for Students with Hearing Loss

On a recent afternoon in a conference room at Bonsall's Sullivan Middle School, SDCOE Audiologist Amanda Levy set out a tape measure, portable speaker, mini microphone, and a smartphone with a sound level meter to mimic the noise of a classroom. Levy was getting ready to conduct a functional listening test to see how well 8th-grader Angel was hearing in class. 

Levy, along with the others on SDCOE's nine-member SELPA-based Audiology team, is responsible for ensuring auditory access for students with hearing loss, who can face unique learning challenges. 

"When students can't access the instruction being provided, they can't be expected to learn from it," Levy said. "They can be sitting in class and trying their hardest, but still have gaps in their learning you wouldn't expect."

Technology — such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and wireless assistive hearing and amplification devices — can help, but it doesn't replace two normal-hearing ears.

SDCOE's Audiology team includes Levy and Linda Dye, based in North County; South County's Amy Kalenderian and Dianna Nathan; East County's Diedre Schloyer, Jan Diggs, Emily Heldt, and audiology technician Christy Chapman; and infant-toddler audiologist, Diana Casillas, who's based in the HOPE Infant Family Support program.

Together, they have decades of experience supporting students with hearing loss. They are the advocate and voice for children with hearing loss, whether it's troubleshooting equipment and conducting tests, or supporting them at individualized education program (IEP) meetings and recommending classroom accommodations. 

These professionals work closely with teachers to identify and fill in the gaps in knowledge that students have. They support the districts and students SDCOE serves by identifying students with hearing and listening challenges, improving their access to instruction, and empowering them to become successful scholars. 

Diggs said that they accomplish this in a number of ways: consulting with staff on the impact of hearing loss on a student's educational and social progress, educating staff on the hearing equipment their student will be using in the classroom and the pros and limitations of the equipment, assisting the staff in implementing a daily listening check of the hearing equipment, carrying out diagnostic auditory processing evaluations, consulting with outside agencies supporting the student, and more. 

No workday is typical, and much of their time is spent with students at school sites. Each audiologist serves anywhere from dozens to more than 100 students.

"My favorite part is seeing a student put on their hearing aids for the first time and watching their face as they hear sounds they have never heard before," said Chapman.

Schloyer said she enjoys helping teams that have never worked with a student with hearing loss. 

"Many of the districts I support are smaller and more rural, and I love helping them learn about an individual child's hearing loss, its impact on access and instruction, and what the members of the special education team can do to support the student and family," she said.

The audiologists love to see students advocating for themselves and becoming more independent.

In many instances, a student is not yet comfortable enough with their hearing loss and the environment to indicate if something is wrong or if they need support. The audiologists work to change that. 

"Seeing a student say something when equipment is not working, or when they ask the teacher to move their seat closer or speak up or speak slowly is such an amazing and impactful moment," Kalenderian said.

Their work goes beyond ensuring that access. They want to see their students make progress academically as well.

"I am ecstatic when a student has made enough academic progress to be released from special education," Nathan said.