Kaid’dub Pavel, a bright-eyed, blond-haired, effervescent 4-year-old, is leading the way for a new WSU preschool program that focuses on honing the oral language and listening skills of children with hearing impairments.

Each Monday and Friday morning, Kaid’dub and a handful of other preschool children gather with speech-language pathologist Carla Jones, audiologist Michele Fredrickson, and undergraduate Speech and Hearing Sciences students inside Daggy Hall to do the same kinds of things preschool children all over the Palouse are doing: singing songs, playing games, painting pictures.

Affiliated with WSU’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, the Oral Language Enrichment program (OLE!) opened in January in response to the requests from local parents searching for services to help their children with hearing impairments and prepare them for a mainstream education.

Ella Inglebret, an assistant professor in Speech and Hearing Sciences and an OLE! administrator, said the program resulted from the synergy of a number of people and resources, including a $5,000 gift from Kaid’dub’s parents, faculty member Michael Pavel and his wife, Susan.

But, says Susan, the real gift is their son, Kaid’dub, whose name in Skokomish means “the leader from the top of the mountains to the depths of the ocean.”

“Things are getting created that weren’t created before,” she said on a recent morning in the Speech and Hearing Clinic reception area. “There are a lot of positive outcomes from this child who is special.”

Hearing device training
While Kaid’dub participates in other programs in this area that incorporate both oral language and sign language, the emphasis at OLE! is helping young children with hearing aids, assistive listening devices or cochlear implants to decipher spoken language through the auditory mechanism.

According to Inglebret, despite the incredible advances in auditory technology, including cochlear implants, people who choose to use such devices need training and support to learn how to distinguish between sounds and maximize the effectiveness of the technology.

OLE! attempts to provide that support by not only working with the child, but with the entire family, sharing information back and forth to help reinforce and extend work being done both in the classroom and at home.

“What we are trying to emphasize is that parents are equal members of the team,” she said.

Undergraduate team
Of particular excitement to Inglebret is that WSU undergraduates have become important members of the team. When creating the OLE! program last fall, she decided to revamp the format of the capstone senior seminar she teaches to focus on program development and evaluation. Her students are creating a resource book summarizing and evaluating important research in the field and creating culturally relevant curricular resources for OLE!

“I think they’ve really taken pride in being able to make this kind of contribution,” she said. This spring she was awarded a Teaching and Learning Improvement Initiative Grant to support that work.

Time sensitive
Fredrickson, who provides individual auditory-oral therapy at WSU as well as working with the OLE! program, said the preschool years are critical.

“Time is really of the essence in developing listening skills.”

When the program began there were two children with hearing impairments in the program, along with several hearing children, but the other child and his family have since left the area. Fredrickson said she and her colleagues would like to keep the program small, at about four students with hearing impairment and an equal number of hearing peers.

“We know there are others out there who don’t know of us, or don’t know what we are doing,” she said. “What we hope to provide to families is a supplemental option focusing on the development of listening and oral language skills.”