The following article made the front page of the Littleton Independent August 19, 2010:
Youth support group inspired by dream
By Nan Shnitzler
Audiologist Megan Ford knew from a young age that she wanted to help others maintain their hearing—but she credits a special dream for prompting her to launch a new group that supports families coping with hearing loss.
That dream came in 2007. In it, Ford’s 3-year-old daughter, who has normal hearing in real life, had hearing loss and said she wanted hearing aids to help her “hear her dreams.”
Ford, who practices audiology at U-Mass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, said that dream was likely inspired from hearing parents of young patients who said they were desperate to connect with others facing similar challenges, adding it motivated her right away.
“I woke up with this idea for a support group, and it was like a calling,” said Ford, adding she started typing ideas and did not stop until she had a flyer and a Web site.
Ford, 37, said there’s definitely a need for that type of family support, saying over 90 percent of babies with congenital hearing loss are born to parents with normal hearing. For those parents, their child will likely be the first person with hearing loss they have ever encountered.
“Nothing prepares these parents for the world of hearing loss,” she said.. “They need peer support and educational resources so they can create the best possible situation for their child.”
Ford started the support group in 2007 and she said it’s going strong today, noting that the bimonthly meetings in Worcester draw participants from points as distant as Haverhill and Springfield.
The two-hour meetings typically start with a guest speaker, such as psychologists, speech language pathologists, or a panel of successful young adults who grew up with hearing loss.
The second hour is dedicated to peer support and relationship building that’s based on ground rules that encourage respect, trust, and privacy. Parents exchange contact information if they wish. Though she’s available to facilitate, Ford sometimes leaves the room to encourage participants to communicate more freely.
In addition to that, Ford is also preparing for the third annual Hear My Dreams Meet and Greet Picnic, which will be held on Sat. Aug. 21 from 3 to 7 p.m. at Dean Park in Shrewsbury. She expects more than 60 people will bring picnic fare and games to event, which is free.
“Once a year we get the children together with family and friends for a potluck picnic,” Ford said. “It will be the first time some kids will meet other kids with hearing loss other than their siblings.”
Early detection and support are crucial
In 1993, the National Institutes of Health recommended that all babies be screened for hearing loss before being discharged from the hospital. Massachusetts mandated it in 1999. One method uses sensors on a baby’s head that measure brainwave activity in response to soft clicking sounds. If brainwave response falls outside the normal range, the next step is diagnostic, preferably within three months.
“Audiologists try to get diagnostic testing done ASAP so parents are not sitting on this question mark for too long,” Ford said. “Then we can tell whether the loss is permanent.”
Early detection is crucial because hearing impairment can adversely affect speech and language acquisition, social and emotional development, and academics. Once detected, a range of early interventions can help.
“Research shows that the sooner babies get access to sound via hearing aids or therapy, the greater the chances they can develop speech and language normally,” Ford said.
The fact that experts urge speed just puts more pressure on parents. Ford said audiologists need to step up. Ideally, she’d like her profession to make available a nationwide parent support group because support groups like hers are few and far between.
“If we’re the professionals delivering such life-changing news, we need to be held accountable that parents get the support and education they need,” Ford said. “Parents need to learn so much. And they thought they were just giving birth.”
An early fascination
Ford grew up in Pittsburgh. When she was 3 or 4, she remembers pulling her father’s hearing aids out of his ears and examining them. When she was in fifth grade, she and her friends taught themselves finger spelling. In high school, she became friends with Deaf students who used multiple forms of communication as needed, including lip reading and American Sign Language.
Those early interests led her to Salus University, outside of Philadelphia, where she completed a doctorate in audiology after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Pittsburgh while minoring in American Sign Language.
Over and above maintaining Hear My Dreams, Ford works full time, is raising two children, volunteers for her church and is on the public relations committee of the American Academy of Audiology. Her next step is to file for non-profit 501(c)(3) status for Hear My Dreams.
“The support group is so rewarding because I’m giving back to the field I love and that has given me so much,” Ford said.
For more information visit www.hearmydreams.com. Meeting locations for the support group are disclosed to those who email Ford from a link on the Hear My Dreams Web site.
Courtesy of the Littleton Independent 8/19/2010