The 13th Child’s Voice Podcast was released on May 1, 2019. To listen to the Podcast, please Click Here.

Show Notes

(Episode transcript below.)

In episode 13 of All Ears at Child’s Voice: A Hearing Loss Podcast, Child’s Voice Teacher of the Deaf, Elsa Auerbach, discusses her experience working in the deaf education field and teaching children with hearing loss listening and spoken language over the past sixty years. Elsa Auerbach has been teaching since August 1963 and began teaching at Child’s Voice one month before the school opened in 1996. She has additionally worked as the head teacher at Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization (NSSEO); taught adult lip reading at the Chicago Hearing Society; and had a private tutoring practice for 35 years.

In episode 13, Elsa shares all about…

  • Her immense passion for helping children with hearing loss learn to listen & talk and her pride in Child’s Voice.
  • Her experience helping open up a new school (Child’s Voice!) in the suburbs of Chicago back in 1996.
  • The incredible changes she’s witnessed in the field of hearing loss over the past 60 years, including changes in hearing technology, the advent of cochlear implants, and changes in listening and spoken language outcomes.
  • The ways in which teaching children with hearing loss & supporting families of children with hearing loss has changed and the ways they have stayed the same since she first began teaching in 1963.
  • And more!

Special thanks to John McCortney & Michael McCortney for their work recording All Ears at Child’s Voice episodes. Episodes of All Ears at Child’s Voice are graciously edited by John McCortney.

Disclaimer: Child’s Voice is a listening-and-spoken-language program for children with hearing loss. All Ears at Child’s Voice: A Hearing Loss Podcast is a resource provided by Child’s Voice. Reference to any specific product or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by Child’s Voice. The views expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by Child’s Voice employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of Child’s Voice.


Episode 13 Transcript

Tatum:                  Welcome to All Ears at Child’s Voice, a podcast discussing all things hearing loss. We aim to connect parents of children with hearing loss with the professionals who serve them. We’re your hosts. I’m Tatum Fritz.

Jessica:                 And I’m Jessica Brock. Last week we talked with Michael Douglas about dual languages with children with hearing loss and today we’re going to talk with Elsa Auerbach about the changes that deaf education has experienced over time. We’re so excited to have today’s guest on the show with us. Welcome Elsa.

Elsa:                       Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

Tatum:                  We’re excited to have you. Elsa Auerbach is a teacher of the deaf at Child’s Voice. She began as a teacher at Child’s Voice one month before the school opened in 1996.

Tatum:                  She has been teaching since August, 1963 and has taught adult lip reading at the Chicago Hearing Society. She was the head teacher at Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization, also known as NSSEO, and she had a private tutoring practice for 35 years. Elsa, can you share a little about what you do at Child’s Voice?

Elsa:                       Well, over the 23 years I’ve done it all. I’ve done early intervention. I’ve done the preschool, I’ve done the grade level kids. I’ve done it all, whatever they needed, I’ve done, but I prefer being with those little three year olds.

Jessica:                 They sure are cute.

Elsa:                       Oh yeah. Yeah, they get me.

Jessica:                 We like asking our guests every week for a story from the past week. It could be something cute or heartwarming or touching. Does anything come to mind?

Elsa:                       Well, actually yes. I was doing lunch duty with the older kids, most of which had been in my class at one time or another. And when I walked in they were screaming and yelling, “Elsa, Elsa, come here I wanna hold you. I want to hug you. Remember when I was in your room? Oh, would you sit over here with me? I love you and I miss you” and I thought, “aha that’s why I’m here”

Jessica:                 Oh, that’s got to feel good.

Elsa:                       Yeah. And then shortly after that, one of my students from eight years ago walked in the school to say hello. Oh, all grown up.

Jessica:                 that’s amazing.

Elsa:                       It was an exciting day.

Jessica:                 That’s so cool. We see kids when they were like two, so they often don’t remember us even when they’re three sometimes.

Elsa:                       Well sometimes, well I have one in my room that remembers you very well.

Jessica:                 It’s true. Every once in a while there’s one. Yes.

Tatum:                  Yes sometimes I get like a faint look of recognition,

Elsa:                       “I’ve seen you somewhere.”

Tatum:                  “Who are you?” Yeah, we only spent like three years together.

Elsa:                       “and I was at your house.”

Jessica:                 Why don’t we start on our main discussion. Can we first start by talking about how you got into the field of deaf education?

Elsa:                       Well, I got into the field. I was born right into it. My grandmother was born with no hearing at all and in those days they couldn’t do a thing about it. My mother then a generation later also lost her hearing, but by then they were more advanced and both of those women had otosclerosis. And by the time my mother was diagnosed, they had two different kinds of surgeries to correct that. She had both of them. She could hear fine. Wow. It was very exciting and I just knew that’s what I was going to do. I was going to work with the deaf. I saw how my grandmother struggled, not being able to hear, I mean, she had language because she was an adult, but I thought, I think we can do better.

Jessica:                 Did you think that you would work with children or adults?

Elsa:                       Well, I’ve done both and I like both, but I adored the children. I just adore the children. They’re just something that just gets to your heart. Yeah. You know,

Tatum:                  So we talked a little bit about how you got into the field. How did you view deafness when you first entered the field?

Elsa:                       You know, it never was odd to me, so I never viewed it in an odd way. What was odd was when I’d see hearing children talking and singing and laughing. And that was odd because I was used to, you know, the children not talking. So, you know, I just viewed it as I’m going to get these kids talking and I’m going to get em laughing. I’m going to get them learning. I didn’t view them as anything unusual. Yeah, they were kids. Yeah.

Jessica:                 So you knew that you wanted to work with people who were deaf. You’d seen your mom and your grandma, um, and so you decided to start studying it, which your path brought you to CID, which is Central Institute for the Deaf in Saint Louis. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?

Elsa:                       Love it. Love it. It was the hardest thing I ever did.  it was, uh, an intense two year program and every week I’d call my mother and say, I’m coming home. I can’t do this. It was going to classes. It was teaching in the classrooms when the teacher was absent. It was working with the residential children after school, before school, on the weekend. You were so immersed in it and you were working in the clinics for speech. You were in the hospitals for stroke patients. You were everywhere and you would get one weekend a month off to yourself. It was horribly hard, but it was wonderful. I came out of there feeling very confident.

Jessica:                 Yeah. What was the education like? So you were learning how to —

Elsa:                       Oh amazing–

Jessica:                 to teach kids to talk

Elsa:                       well the professors

Jessica:                 Which was pretty new at the time,

Elsa:                       at the time I was there, the professors that were teaching the class, were, all of the professors that wrote the texts that all the universities studied from and they were our teachers. And that alone blows your mind. And what an education that was. And our classes were small. At CID, we started with 16 students from all over the United States and out of the United States. The second year, only eight were asked to come back.

Tatum:                  Wow.

Elsa:                       And it wasn’t because of academics, it was because they felt maybe you didn’t work well with children. It wasn’t what they wanted to put a recommendation on. So I felt the education and I didn’t realize it as much then as I do now that I learned from like the gods of deaf education truly and of research. We had them, this wonderful research facility. It was just unbelievable.

Tatum:                  What kinds of things were you learning then? so the field has changed so much and then what we’ve learned, like was lip reading taught? What practices are you learning?

Elsa:                       Well, at CID it was very broad. Not like now where you go to school and you’re just gonna study speech path or you’re just going to study early intervention. We had it all. We had the speech clinic, we had the audiology department and we had the hospitals and we had our professors and coming out of there, you had the option of being any of those things, which today would be a killer and it was killer then because you know, you think, oh boy, I know all of these things. And when I went looking for a job at one of the places I looked at was an audiology clinic and I thought oh well, I took this, I know, I used to do the testing for all the public schools in St Louis. Ooh. Then I saw the equipment. I thought this is no, I’m not doing this.

Elsa:                       And mind you, at that time the equipment was basic. The audiometer was a pure tone audiometer being you hear this? no? Okay, you hear this one? You know, it was so basic. Yeah. But I kind of knew after being there and seeing that the children at that time, you know, they didn’t have implants and so their access to sound was limited and lip reading was really important then. We had classes that of just lip reading classes and you know, and lip reading was so important because they couldn’t hear anything. So doing auditory training was tough. They wore hearing aids that, you know, they turned on and they turned off. That’s it. You didn’t fix this one for you and that one for you and you turn it on, you turn it off. And so teaching auditory training was tough,

Elsa:                       And, and getting lovely speech out of these kids was tough. It was very typical deaf speech. Monotonous. It was just slow. It was, it was a whole different thing. It was hard. But those kids still learned– go figure. Not like, not like they learn today though. Yeah.

Jessica:                 Well they had you as a teacher. So they were bound to learn.

Elsa:                       No, but I mean, you know, seeing what we had to work with then and what I have to work with now. This is a dance in the park, you know? Yeah. Really is.

Jessica:                 So we’ll get to that.

Elsa:                       I mean, working with you guys, you make my job easy.

Jessica:                 Oh thank you. Talk to us a little about when kids were being identified with hearing loss in the 60s.

Elsa:                       Oh my first class was in 1963 and it was in a public school one special ed class in a school. And I had five– seven or eight kids in that class and they were all newly identified age five. So look at all the years they lost. Yeah. And even at that, at age five they’re wearing inferior hearing aids,  their speech was nothing and their language was nothing. And  I’m in there having to teach reading and writing and math and you know, it was a good thing I was young because I don’t know that I could do that now. It was hard, but these were amazing children of whom I still correspond with today.

Jessica:                 Really?

Elsa:                       Yes.

Jessica:                 How are they doing?

Elsa:                       Well, it’s interesting. One young man I correspond with was a skater in the Olympics.

Tatum:                  Wow.

Elsa:                       And I had him in my class along with his sister and he’s kept in contact with me. And one other little girl did too, but recently he wrote to me and he said, “you know, I’m going to let all the other students that were in our class know your email.” I said, “great.” Well then I got the response from one of the women– girls, now a woman– said, “Elsa, you mean she’s still alive? ” and that was all I did was laugh for about 20 minutes. I had to send that to everybody. It was hilarious. But you know, they’re old now. They’re old. They were five when I add them. And that was the 50 something years later their old. Wow.

Tatum:                  So you said the average age is age five. So how did they get identified? Was it like, um, a screening at school?

Elsa:                       Probably. Probably, because I used to do screenings in the public school, but it was such a flimsy way to screen, you know, you’d give him, you know, two frequencies on the auto– okay you’re deaf. So when they came to me, they hadn’t been anywhere else. So I have these seven, eight kids in my room hadn’t been anywhere else. They never heard anything. They can’t communicate really. And they didn’t even learn any sign language, which I thought maybe they would have somehow. But that’s what we got. And they were age five, five and six, those kids. And I had them for three years because it wasn’t like a school like this where you know, they can move to another class and another class, it was one class in this school and in another suburb there was another class and in another suburb there was another class and no two teachers did the same things.

Jessica:                 Really?

Elsa:                       No, they all came from different universities. They had different techniques of teaching, different curriculum and it was terrible. It was terrible.

Jessica:                 Was Listening and spoken language even really an option back then or what did that look like?

Elsa:                       It was

Elsa:                       We didn’t see any sign language classes at that time, they didn’t call it that at CID they called it, um, auditory-Oral. Yeah. Sometimes it was called oral aural, but it was the same thing, you know, speech, listening. And so in this co-op where I worked they were all spoken English.

Tatum:                  Yeah.

Elsa:                       Nobody spoke. You know, it was basic. Yeah. So I’m assuming that in their public schools or perhaps a doctor’s office, they were tested and you know, in those times they use–

Tatum:                  a tuning fork?

Elsa:                       Yeah. Yeah. That’s how they, that’s how they did it in the doctors office and they go like this and put it on the kids forehead.

Tatum:                  Oh yes I have seen that before.

Elsa:                       Isn’t that wonderful? Yeah. So I, I’ve seen some changes. Yeah.

Tatum:                  Which is why we’re having you because it’s very interesting.

Elsa:                       Yeah, it is.

Tatum:                  So you mentioned kids are diagnosed late, much later than today. Um, and then–

Elsa:                       poor equipment —

Tatum:                  poor equipment and the technology–

Elsa:                       Even in the classroom. You know what we had in the classroom was a loop that went around certain areas of classroom and the kids wore these big heavy earphones that would hard rubber and their ears would be beet red in an hour and those earphones plugged into this thing on the table and then it all went into this microphone that I wore and that was an FM system then that was it. That was it. Beltone made that, it was the only one around. And when I went into my first classroom, there was a box with all that equipment thrown in the box and it was like here Elsa, put it together. It’s like, what do what? Like I say, I was glad I was young then. I didn’t know to be angry about that, but it was a challenge and the good part was parents were eager to help.

Elsa:                       They would come in and help me in my classroom. They would bring materials, I mean, I didn’t have any materials. I just came out of school, what did I have? You know? So it was a challenge. My mother used to come on the train and come and come teach them art activities. It was cute. She liked it.

Tatum:                  So given all the challenges, what were outcomes like?

Elsa:                       Outcomes were minimal. Um, the boy that I still talk to, he’s very successful. He was very artistic as a child. When I would be making a picture to teach them something and I’d make like a dog or something on a paper and he’d just take the paper out of my hands. He says, no dog. And he’d make a dog. He’s very artistic and he now has a graphic art business.

Elsa:                       He’s married, children. His wife is also deaf and she was oral and signing. And I think because his voice quality was very poor, I think he eventually stopped the talking and went to the signing but he’s successful, you know. And the other girl that I still communicated with, she’s also married with children and she had a job at a library and she too didn’t talk much. So most of those kids did not end up being quite chatty. Yeah, I understand why, it was even hard for me being with these kids for three years to understand what they’re saying. It was difficult. You didn’t want to keep saying “what”. You didn’t want them to feel unsuccessful. But yeah, the outcomes were fair.

Jessica:                 Yeah, just the advances in technology have made such a difference, I think for a lot of these kids. But we’ll get to that. So  you’re in the 60s you’re a new teacher, you’re working with these kids, and then in the 70s you moved into private practice. Is that correct?

Elsa:                       I was moved into it by the school districts. So because around that time in Illinois, you could not enroll your child in a, an oral classroom for the deaf. They all of a sudden just disappeared from the face of the earth.

Jessica:                 Wow.

Elsa:                       And every special ed classroom for deaf children was a TC program, was mostly signing and very little voice

Tatum:                  So TC as in total communication.

Elsa:                       Yes. But I really wasn’t fond of that for me. And so parents were going to the school districts say, “Hey, I want my child to talk. I want them to hear what can you do?” So the school districts where I lived, contracted me to come into their different buildings and pull kids and also to work with kids that were home-bound.  would take my own little baby children over to the homebound place and that mom would watch my kid and I would work with their kid. And they started me on that. And more and more families would contact me. And pretty soon my husband said, I think you need an office. So he built an office for me in our basement and it was very nice. And I did that for 20 some years, even after I was here. Wow. Wow. So, I’d be here five days a week and then I’d go home and on the weekends I had Saturdays and Sundays filled.

Jessica:                 Wow. Busy. High demand. So in Illinois, it sounds like it was mostly total communication in the 70s, there were no programs for oral kids?

Elsa:                       Um, they had, uh, they had kind of a program in Jacksonville, kind of, it was a split building. I think it still is. One side was ASL and one side was TC.

Jessica:                 Oh, okay. So if parents wanted their kids to be educated in an oral mode, where would they go?

Elsa:                       They’d go out of state and most of them went to Saint Louis, but that was the closest state. And Saint Louis at that time, and still today they have three or four excellent, excellent schools. And so the, the moms would go to St Louis, they would rent an apartment near whichever school they chose and they would live there five days a week with their child because they didn’t want their child to live in the school even though there were residential schools there.

Elsa:                       And then on the weekend they come home to see dad and the rest of the kids. And this went on until all of those moms and dads contacted Jean Moog who was at that time was at CID and begged her, please, please, would you open up a school in the Chicagoland area? And she did. And I knew Jean from when I was at CID. And so I called her, I said, you know, count me in. She said, well, don’t you want to know how much you’re going to get paid or what? I said, no, count me in. And I already had a full time job, but I gave notice. And so six children, their parents were brave enough to enroll their children in a brand new school. They didn’t know how it was going to be. And I was the one teacher. And there was another teacher that worked there about three months before she went back to St Louis. So it was me and the other teacher and we had an early childhood teacher in a church school building.

Tatum:                  So this is the beginning of Child’s Voice?

Elsa:                       That was day one. Child’s Voice started day one. Wow. When, when Jean said okay, and they went and rented this place and we went there and cleaned up the three rooms and,

Jessica:                 and this was in a church building?

Elsa:                       It was,

Tatum:                  and then this was a 1996

Elsa:                       yes.

Tatum:                  So you mentioned that the oral programs disappeared in the 70s, so it was that big of a gap before there were services here?

Elsa:                       yes. A huge gap, which led me to a different direction also because I did have the private practice, but that doesn’t fill a full time schedule. And so I worked at different places for schools that had a sabbatical and they needed a itinerant teacher or whatever they needed at the time. And I would do that. And then I got a full time job as a English as a second language in a university, which was really awesome because the techniques were so much the same.

Tatum:                  Yeah, they are.

Elsa:                       Yeah. And at that time working with adults, I didn’t need different certification.

Jessica:                 Oh Wow.

Elsa:                       So I had that full time job for quite a few years was amazing.

Tatum:                  Wow. That’s so interesting.

Elsa:                       That’s the one I said, bye bye. They’re opening up Child’s Voice, good-bye.

Tatum:                  In another episode this season we interviewed Uma Soman she’s at the Carle Auditory Oral School, In her article she talked about how like the English as a second language, um, techniques that you would do, like ELL techniques are so similar for like what you should continue to do with kids who are in the mainstream of hearing loss.

Elsa:                       And it was interesting, really interesting.

Jessica:                 Okay. Let’s go back to the start of Child’s Voice. So Child’s Voice opens in 1996 you’re the teacher there, when did you first start seeing children with cochlear implants?

Elsa:                       Right away. We had one student that was one of our first six students that came in with an implant. And I go, wow, hmm, what is this? I bettered. So I had to go to a whole bunch of, you know, conferences and workshops and you know, and I thought, I don’t know about this. I was very skeptical. Yeah. And this child, it was necessary for her to have an implant because she had Usher’s syndrome and she had to, she had to learn spoken language.

Tatum:                  Without lip reading.

Jessica:                 So for listeners, Usher’s syndrome causes varying degrees of deafness and blindness. So this kiddo was probably unlikely to be able to see the signs in American SIgn Language

Elsa:                       At some point

Jessica:                 At some point

Tatum:                  And she wouldn’t be able to rely on lip reading either.

Elsa:                       No. No.

Tatum:                  So that’s when you need really good auditory access.

Elsa:                       Yes. And so she was the one we all learned on, you know, and she did very well. And I was really shocked because you couldn’t even whisper around her because she knew what you said. I mean, you know, you had to really watch it. Like even now, I mean with my, with my kiddos now, if I’m whispering something under my breath, like oh boy, I’m tired. “Oh, you’re tired?” “Uh, yeah. I am, how you hear better than I do.”

Tatum:                  Yeah I guess you didn’t have to worry about it back in the day.

Elsa:                       No, no. You could scream it out. I know.

Jessica:                 How in your view did cochlear implants change the field of deaf education?

Elsa:                       Oh, a kazillion percent. These children got access to sound. Yes we had to help them learn how to use that sound. It wasn’t the same as putting a hearing aid on. If you blast it full and you weren’t severely deaf, you just got louder stuff. But this was different. This was more like a computer generated sound, but it didn’t take that long for the kids to really catch on to that. And once they did, what I noticed was the melody of their language, no longer flatliners, the melody and they’re singing and they’re laughing. And not too long ago, we had a wonderful musical program here of which I ended up leaving in tears because the guys were playing the music. And here is like 40 of our kids sitting there on the floor, most of them with implants and the music is playing and they’re all swaying to the music and they’re clapping and they’re singing. And I started to cry. I thought Oh my God, look at this. They’re listening to music. They’re dancing, they’re singing. Wouldn’t have had that in the 60s they wouldn’t have heard that. I mean, I even had my first class. I even had the principal get me an electronic piano brought into my classroom. I think if I play it hard enough and loud enough, and the best I got out of that was for them to feel the tactile of the piano. Yeah. A lot of tactile was taught then, you know, lot on the face, lot on the neck.

Elsa:                       So how does it impact them? In every way.

Elsa:                       In the beginning it was just, you could hear with it, but now you, you know, you can get on the phone with it. You can put in a TV you can put it in a boombox. You, I mean there’s so much they can do it and then it was just, you know, we were grateful. Oh boy, you put it on, you can hear. That was wonderful. Now they’re, they’re so intricate and they can be adjusted in such minute little ways to just exactly fit. I don’t know that they were able to do that then. But I mean, when I watch how they do it here with adjusting, you know, the mapping and things. It’s wonderful and they’re just amazing and I can’t even guess what they’re going to be like in another 20 years. I can’t even guess.

Jessica:                 Yeah.

Elsa:                       Smaller

Tatum:                  and back in the 90s, I would imagine they were usually just putting one cochlear implant

Elsa:                       one yes, because they weren’t able to get permission, um, by the doctor or by insurance. Most insurance wouldn’t even cover it then, but they didn’t get permission to do two. So if you got one, you’re lucky.

Tatum:                  So I’ve heard from other people who have been in the field for longer than me. That at the time when like two like when the idea came about that you should do it bilaterally, that people who had been around for a while were a little hesitant. How was your experience with that?

Elsa:                       Well the experience is you’re only getting, you know, sound on one side. And so if someone’s on your other side, you’re not gonna get the same access to sound. And even if, as some kids did, they kept their hearing aid in one ear and had the implant in the other, that still was an uneven balance of where sound is coming from. And in the beginning I thought well one’s enough. Look how good they’re hearing, but one isn’t enough, if possible two is great because you really need access on both sides.

Jessica:                 Yeah, the improvements in technology, it’s really incredible they’re even like a waterproof now they’re getting smaller. There are different– there’s the behind the ear, there’s a single unit. I mean, so many different options. Which we’ve talked about as being a challenge for some families, like choosing between all those different options. But to think about a time when there really weren’t any options and you were just really, really crossing your fingers, that insurance would let you even implant one. I mean, I can’t imagine the hurdles.

Elsa:                       And now the kids can even have superman on there and they’re very important, you get all these different color ear molds and I mean very stylish now. Yeah.

Tatum:                  So I’m just thinking like today when we work with families, I don’t know how well this will translate cause like our families, our kids get diagnosed really young. We know from when they’re babies they have, if they have been diagnosed with profound hearing loss and whether or not they’re likely a cochlear implant candidate. But sometimes it takes us a while to counsel a family for them to want to go ahead with a cochlear implant. Sometimes they’re hesitant. Was that something that you saw back then? Were families just very excited about the cochlear implant? Were they worried about it?

Elsa:                       Most of them were worried about it because what they felt was all you’re going to drill into their brain. They didn’t have enough information that no, we’re not doing that and this is where it goes and this is what it does. And I think most parents were afraid of it until they started seeing other children progress like they did. And we counseled a lot, especially our audiology department did a lot of counseling and most of them did it. But even yet today we have several parents whose children really need a better access to sound. And the parents are just kind of well, I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. And their children are getting older and I don’t knows aren’t good. Those early years. Boy, the importance of receptive language from birth. And then we have parents that are,  I don’t know, and they need it. Or you have an, an an extreme case. Well, I dunno, I’m going to let my child get older and decide, you know, everybody, it’s their choice. It’s a parent’s choice how they want it to be. Just like, do you want the oral option? Do you want signing? It’s their choice for their lifestyle. But as an educator, when we get the kids up from EI who have been there and have gotten the initial work along with the parents getting all the help, now when I get them at three, well it’s a dance in the park for me because I’m not starting from zero now.

Like you were in 1965.

Absolutely. Yeah. Well even later than that. Yeah.

Tatum:                  I already know today the kids are implanted a lot earlier. So the kids that you were working with, when you first started at Child’s Voice, when were they receiving their implants?

Elsa:                       The one that was our first one at Child’s Voice, she was first implanted at five, but that was because of her syndrome. The other ones, maybe at age six and they weren’t doing it earlier then unless it was some really awesome reason. Now it’s a whole different story because now I think they understand that that access to sound immediately immediately is what’s going to help that child.

Jessica:                 What were outcomes like for kids who were getting implanted at age six? Like they had no access to sound really until then. I imagine that being just as difficult as–

Elsa:                       yes

Jessica:                 as not.

Elsa:                       Yeah. Because now they can hear, but for five years have not learned any, any speech or words, so now they can hear, but it’s like you’re now working with a a six month old that can hear and, and hasn’t language yet. But now here’s this six-seven year old. He can hear, we’re starting from the very beginning. Yeah. And you know the outcome? Chances of those children mainstreaming completely– not good. Most of them had to go into special ed programs after they left our school. We used to keep them longer in the beginning.

Jessica:                 How long would you keep them?

Elsa:                       Well, we originally, our bylaws said we could have children from three until 11. And I don’t think we ever had one that was older than 11 and now as soon as they’re ready, you know, don’t let the door hit you on the way out, you need to go. We know when they’re ready and we don’t keep them longer than they need to be here, but when they leave here and they go into mainstream, they’re academically above whoever else is in that classroom they go to and it becomes just a social adjustment into a public school.

Jessica:                 Yeah. I was talking with one of my families recently about, if a kiddo’s language is really high? Like what’s the benefit of continuing to do therapy? This is a child that isn’t in the school. He’s not school age yet. And I was saying, well, when they go to school, there is this big social adjustment, especially for being a child with a disability, your hearing loss is a disability. There’s this big social adjustment and if we can get their language skills and their speech skills and the academic skills higher than grade level, then they can go into that mainstream classroom or wherever, whatever classroom they’re going into and navigate the adjustments of being in a setting where there aren’t other kids like them and have a little bit of a cushion, which is something that I think–

Elsa:                       that is exactly what we hope for that they have a plenty good cushion, that academically they’re ahead of, they go from here to kindergarten, they have all that information, they go from here to first grade, they have all that, you know, reading, all that stuff and they have wonderful language and capable of understanding the kind of directions that are given in those classrooms. But they have to also adjust to a class of 25-30 kids, none of them wearing an implant or hearing aid. And that is a tough adjustment.

Jessica:                 Yeah, the advocacy,

Elsa:                       well and if they leave too soon, they don’t have the advocacy skills, they really don’t have them yet. We’d like him to stay here, to go into what we call our P2 area, which teaches them how to maneuver in the mainstream, how to care for yourself, how to advocate for yourself along with, you know, all the academics,

Jessica:                 Which is really pretty remarkable if you think about that being our goal now, whereas your goal back then was probably, can they turn to their name? Can they say a few words? The goals are a lot different now.

Elsa:                       yes, they are. You know, and the advantage of a school like this is that a child can go from one teacher to the next teacher and the curriculum is the same. Any teacher could walk into any classroom and teach that class because we are on the same page.

Jessica:                 Was it not like that at your other schools?

Elsa:                       It was not like, no. When I was at a Northwest Suburban, it was not like that. Nothing was the same. The way I taught phonetics was obviously the way I learned it at CID, but the other teachers went to different universities and they either did Thorndyke symbols that they did this silly thing called Elkhorn symbols, which instead of a letter, it was a mouth shape. Now what if that child goes from there to the next class, which does Thorndyke symbols and then goes to the next class, which does the International Phonetic Symbols. You’re reteaching that child three times for one area. And here we just build on what was already there. Now we keep going. So that’s an amazing advantage. That’s what I saw when I was at CID. Yeah.

Tatum:                  So you’re making me think of the Listening and Spoken Language field as a whole. Which is governed by an organization called AG Bell. How has that changed over time since you have entered the field?

Elsa:                       Well, I think we’ve gotten more sophisticated. We’ve learned more on how to work with each other at other schools, other states. Um, and yet you get together with other facilities. And you teach and learn with them. We didn’t have that. I mean, I couldn’t even talk to another teacher at NSSEO because I didn’t know what they learned and she didn’t know what I learned. And when I became, you know, the lead head teacher there and I had to go from suburb to suburb to look in their classrooms, it was like, I didn’t even know what to say because I don’t know what you’re doing and I can’t criticize you. I mean, I was young, I couldn’t criticize them, but there was no continuity. There was, it was just you do your thing and you do your thing. I’ll do my thing and however it works out. Yeah. You know, but in those days, those kids didn’t mainstream.

Tatum:                  Yeah.

Elsa:                       I tried mainstreaming some of my children in that public school I was in. This one little boy that I still talk to, little boy– he’s an old man. Um, but he was a math whiz. And so I made arrangements that he would go into a math class with a teacher that I thought would be accommodating. So, and maybe I’d put them in for PE, but there wasn’t much else you could do. Yeah. The other teachers were scared to even work with my kids. It wasn’t like now. Yeah.

Tatum:                  Just thinking of now, like I obviously work at Child’s Voice. I’ve done practicums elsewhere. Jessica and I both worked at the Mama Lere Hearing school at Vanderbilt. She’s done practicums at the Moog Center and I’ve done some at Sunshine Cottage. And to me everything has always looked the same. We’re all on the same page.

Elsa:                       It wasn’t like that then.

Tatum:                  Yeah. And I think that’s really like the benefit of having like the overall Listening Spoken Language certification that we have now. That network between schools that we have now.

Elsa:                       I think that’s amazing. When we would all get together, all the different schools and present different things to each other, or even when we would just present a class that we liked and we would show them how we taught a particular thing and we’d bring the materials. I mean, those little things are really helpful.

Jessica:                 Yeah. It’s pretty amazing to think that now we have a school full of 15, 20, how many professionals who know how to teach, listening and spoken language

Elsa:                       I can’t even tell you when we have our meetings all together.

Jessica:                 I know.

Elsa:                       It’s like, wow, I look at Michele, I said, where did all these people come from? It was only three of us here, but it is, it is amazing how many professionals we have here and how wonderful every one of them are. I’m just amazed when we get brand new teachers coming in. I’m so proud of how they come in and, and they’re so good.

Elsa:                       I see new teachers coming in all the time and I’m, I’m just really proud of them. Well, I used to do a lot of practicum students in my classroom. I, I stopped doing that a few years ago cause I think the younger girls really would prefer to do that.

Tatum:                  Yeah, it is a lot of work to have a practicum student,

Elsa:                       Yes but I used to have like two or three a year and I loved it and two of my practicum students are full time teachers here, so I hold it over their head a lot. But they came in as a practicum student with amazing skills. It was like, Whoa, I didn’t see that when I got out of school and I saw the other teachers in that co-op, I didn’t see that– they were floundering. They didn’t know what to do. Coming from CID, they just bang it into your head that you know what to do because they make you do it. So you’re not afraid of having a classroom where people come in to observe you. You don’t care.

Tatum:                  Yeah.

Elsa:                       because you’re used to that. It doesn’t fluster you.

Jessica:                 What’s your advice to new teachers or therapists entering the field of deaf education?

Elsa:                       I don’t know what to say about that. Find a job at a place you are going to be comfortable in, at a place you feel you can do something good, and you’re going to come away saying, wow, look what I did. And I get that here. I mean, I know because of my age, I’m sure a lot of teachers wonder, why are you still here? I can’t imagine my life without coming here and working with these kids and these teachers. I really love it here. And those kids bring you life. They do. So if you’re looking for a job, you look at a place that you respect and you can see you’ll fit in there and you can do something and you don’t ever want to be at a place where they think, well, you’re a new teacher. What do you know? That’s a terrible way to hire somebody.

Jessica:                 Yeah, that’s good advice.

Elsa:                       It’s a good thing you guys are so amazing.

Jessica:                 Aw thanks Elsa

Elsa:                       Yeah

Tatum:                  Thanks Elsa. Do you have any advice to parents with children with hearing loss?

Elsa:                       Yeah, it’s hard for the parents, especially the little ones you guys see because there are still grieving and they’re still hurting and they’re scared and it’s important that the parents feel really, really comfortable with the teacher and work together with the teacher. And it’s important for the teacher to understand the emotional needs of the parent and give the parent things they can do at home that are simple, give them tasks to do that they wouldn’t think about like, oh, when you’re giving him a bath, why don’t you do this and this? Why don’t you sing this song and why don’t you use a little ducky? Those kinds of things. a parent thinks, well they’re deaf, what’s the point?  I don’t read to my child because they’re deaf. Well, yes, you better read to your child. You want the parent to know there’s things they can do and that you’re there to work with them because both of you love this child and it helps to bring those parents in to see some of our older kids that used to be there and now they’re over here.

Elsa:                       And look, this is the path we’re going to go on. And that’s why when we have our like graduation and parents of newbies come to the graduation, they’re like in tears because they think, wow, my, my child can do this. They can get up and give a speech and sing a song. And you know, on a graduation I’m like the biggest crybaby because I hear the musicof pomp and circumstances and I’m already bawling because those babies who were in my room when they were three and now here they are walking down with the blue gowns and I’m dying and I’m so proud. I’m so happy.

Tatum:                  Almost every guest on our podcast has mentioned the graduation.

Elsa:                       It’s wonderful

Tatum:                  If they’re connected to Child’s Voice in anyway,

Elsa:                       It’s amazing.

Tatum:                  So our listeners should know what it is.

Elsa:                       It’s our graduation of the kids that have reached what we think is the time to mainstream where they will be successful

Tatum:                  And it is amazing. I know we’re probably gonna wrap up soon, but you made me think of one more question. I know you talked a little bit about parents grieving now and how to deal with it. I’m just wondering, I’m interested in have you noticed a difference in like the grieving process between now and back in the 60s now that there is more hope or do you feel like it’s still the same?

Elsa:                       Well in the 60s by the time I saw the parents, the kids were five. Now by the time a child is three and I get them, you guys in EI have started addressing all the issues and so it is easier and the parents are very willing now to help with the teacher, help with the child. How can I come in, can I come in and volunteer? It’s different because all these services are immediate when your child is diagnosed at birth and they come in with a little baby. Yeah and you guys start dealing with– this is what you can do as a parent. You know, this is how you can do this and that. That’s the difference. Yeah. You start early and you’re starting with professionals.

Tatum:                  And I would imagine too, just with like late diagnosis, they’ve already gotten through this whole period of time. Maybe wondering what’s wrong, what’s going on,

Jessica:                 why isn’t my kid talking,

Elsa:                       will they ever,

Jessica:                 why isn’t he turning to their name? That kind of stuff. Yeah. Whereas with newborn hearing screenings, they’re sort of being hit with this information before they’ve even really gotten to know their kid at all, which the advantage of that is that we’re in there early, the outcomes will be better. But the emotional toll that that takes is

Elsa:                       yes,

Tatum:                  it can take away from that first attachment, which would be a really good topic for a future seasons.

Elsa:                       yeah. But it’s way different now for the parent. It’s so much better for the parent now. They’re not alone. They have a whole school full of people waiting to help you.

Elsa:                       And programs for parents to meet other parents and talk to them about their same needs that we as teachers really can’t address all those same things because we don’t have a hearing impaired child. And so we’ve worked hard over the years to put parent with another parent. Why don’t you call this one? Maybe you’d like to get together and have the kids play together and they can talk about what really is getting them.

Jessica:                 I love watching the parents when they’re coming to pick up kiddos from the school stand in the lobby talking to each other. And it makes me feel really happy that they have that community.

Elsa:                       So important.

Elsa:                       Yeah.

Jessica:                 Yeah. Last question, and this is not on the list of questions. So what are you most proud of at Child’s Voice?

Elsa:                       Oh my gosh. Everything about it.

Elsa:                       Yeah. I am proud to see how it’s evolved from, you know, six little kids and two teachers and now our own building and filled with all these kids. I spend a lot of time just looking around and saying, well, look what we did. I think I care about this school way more than I should because I’ve been here from the beginning, but I care about it like it’s my own and maybe that’s why I don’t want to retire because it’s mine and I’m proud of all these kids that go out there. You know how many kids have come back to see us and they’re 20 years old and they’ve graduated with an MBA and they’re going to be a doctor and some of them are hired here as teachers. I’m really proud of that. It’s amazing. I’m really proud of our kids.

Elsa:                       Even those little bitty ones at lunch today. Come on Elsa remember I was in your class a long time ago. That was last year. I mean, I’m proud of all of this and I’m proud of how all of these teachers work together and how they get along like a really nice family. It would be terrible –and I’ve had the experience in other places where the staff was not friendly to each other. You don’t ever have that feeling here of not wanting to come here because those people aren’t friendly. You want to come here? I view it as my friends are here. Yeah. And my kids are here.

Jessica:                 The kids are amazing.

Elsa:                       Aren’t they?

Jessica:                 They’re so amazing.

Elsa:                       I know, I know every year as I send my kids off to the next classroom at the end of the year and I think I’m just never going to get over this. I am going to miss them. I’m never going to like the next class like I love this one. And in comes the new class and after a week it’s like, I just love these kids. Oh my gosh, look at these kids. And I’ve got a bunch of those wonderfulness in my room now.

Elsa:                       They’re so cute.

Jessica:                 Yeah, they’re cute and they’re smart and they’re very resilient and they learn so much from you. So they’re lucky to have you.

Elsa:                       Yeah, well I’m really lucky to get these kids. I really am. They’re wonderful. And people like you are pretty wonderful you guys well you are

Tatum:                  You’ve been so nice to us on this episode.

Elsa:                       But I see how hard working all of the staff is. Yeah. And I backed down over a lot of the things I used to do here and the young ones take over it. And you’re doing such an amazing job. I just loved that and I am proud of all of it. What can I say, it’s a cool place.

Elsa:                       It’s a cool place.

Tatum:                  Um, why don’t we wrap things up there Elsa, thank you so much for joining us.

Elsa:                       Thank you for asking me, even though I was very hesitant to do this.

Tatum:                  Well, we’re really glad you agreed.

Elsa:                       That’s because you have winning ways about you.

Jessica:                 We do.

Tatum:                  I Know Jessica did a lot of persuading.

Elsa:                       Well you did okay, you did all right.

Jessica:                 Alright listeners, we would love to hear your reactions from today’s episode. You can email us at and you can find episode show notes and archived episodes at our child’s voice website,

Tatum:                  Yes, be sure to let us know your thoughts on the topic today and stay tuned for next week as we will be talking with an alumna of Child’s Voice named Haley Drucker.

Tatum:                  Haley is a college student with bilateral cochlear implants working towards earning a degree in deaf education.

Elsa:                       Yes, she is.

Tatum:                  Which is really amazing.

Elsa:                       She’s worked here for several summers.

Tatum:                  She’s amazing. Um, so it should be a great episode, so be sure to tune in.

Jessica:                 Thank you for joining us for another episode of All Ears at Child’s Voice. Be sure to join us for our next episode. We release episodes every other week on Wednesdays.

Tatum:                  You can find us on Twitter and Instagram. I’m at @TatumFritzSLP and Jessica is @JessicaBrockSLP.

Jessica:                 And if you’re interested in learning more about Child’s Voice, Child’s Voice is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with the handle at @childs_voice. No apostrophe.

Tatum:                  We’ll see you next time.

Elsa:                       Bye.

Child’s Voice Kiddos: Bye! Thanks for listening!



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