A Sound Investment in our Children

An Interview with Jen Haney, Family Education Liaison

Jen Haney, MA, DT-H is the Hart Family Education Liaison for the Cochlear Implant Program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. She is a licensed teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, and a credentialed Early Invention evaluator and provider. Jen holds a Master’s in Educational Leadership and Organizational Change from Roosevelt University, as well as a Bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education from Illinois State University. Jen joined the Cochlear Implant Team in November of 2015. She provides support and resources to families regarding the education of their child from birth through post-secondary education. Jen also collaborates with educational teams in a variety of school placements keeping them up-to-date regarding a number of aspects pertaining to cochlear implants.

FHSR interviewed Jen about her role as a Family Education Liaison and tips for parents about navigating accommodations and special education plans. A big thank you to Jen for taking the time to give parents of deaf and hard of hearing children such great information!

What makes a great classroom setting for kids with hearing aids or cochlear implants?

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” – Unknown

Educating teachers, staff, and students about hearing loss and related needs sets the tone and culture for a positive school year. Creating a classroom environment of mutual respect among students, valuing others’ differences, and making each individual feel heard, allows for a space that is comfortable, open, and safe.

What is an FM system and how do I get my kid’s school to use it?

“Tell me and I’ll forget. Teach me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I will learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

Frequency modulation (FM) and digital modulation (DM) are two ways that sounds can be transmitted over a distance. FM systems transmit sound using radio waves, whereas DM systems are transmitted using digital signals. Both FM and DM systems transmit sound from a microphone that is worn or used by a teacher, parent or any other communication partner directly to the child. Because the microphone is away from the child’s device, both systems are often called remote-microphone hearing assistance technology (RM-HAT).

How is the sound from an RM-HAT system different than the sound children hear from their hearing aid or cochlear implant?

Because the microphone that picks up sound on a hearing aid or cochlear implant is on the device worn by the child, the device also amplifies unwanted sounds like background noise and reverberation, in addition to important sounds that help us to understand speech. When a teacher, parent or conversational partner wears an RM-HAT system, the microphone on the RM-HAT picks up the speaker’s voice and transmits that signal directly to the child’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. This direct transmission avoids the interference from background noise or reverberation. Sound received from an RM-HAT system is then processed through the child’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. (Source: Success for Kids with Hearing Loss)

What are the most important topics to bring up during my kid’s IEP meetings?

“Parents have become so convinced that educators know what is best for their children that they forget that they are the experts.” – Marian Wright Edelman, Educator

First and foremost, you are your child’s strongest advocate and know them best. You are also an equal member of the IEP team and should be valued as such. Come in with a positive attitude and open mind.

  • Give IEP team a brief history of your child’s hearing loss journey thus far. When were they diagnosed? When were they amplified? What services were provided before entering the school system?
  • Convey what communication style your child currently uses and what your goals are for your child.
  • Explain to school staff what you feel are your child’s areas of strength as well as areas of need. Let them know how you feel your child learns best.
  • Depending on the age and needs of your child you may want to address the following; speech perception and listening skills, articulation, self-concept, self-advocacy, social and communicational competence, communication repair, access to instruction, and other special factors.

How can parents set up their homes to help their kids with homework?

“I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.” – Edith Ann

Establishing an after school routine can be the first step in appropriately preparing for the “dreaded” homework time. Set a given amount of time for your child after school to take a break…have a snack, chat, watch TV, or simply relax. Your child has been working hard all day and listening fatigue is a real thing! When your child is ready to get their homework started, allow them to decide where they feel they can concentrate best. Encourage a quiet place in the home that is free from distractions.

How can you – Jen – help out my kid with regard to school?

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela

As the Education Liaison for the Cochlear Implant Team at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago my primary role is to support cochlear implant candidates and recipients.

These services include but are not limited to:

  • Staff in-services
  • Classroom in-services for peers
  • Classroom observations
  • Assistance with transition from early intervention to early childhood, and from high school to post-secondary education
  • Navigating the IEP process
  • Information regarding legal rights for those with hearing loss under ADA, IDEA, IEPs, 504s, etc.
  • Educating hearing related service providers on how to maximize listening skill development within classroom and individual sessions
  • Providing information on various networking opportunities related to organizations specific to those with hearing loss
  • Bridge and form a solid foundation and relationship between hospital and school providers
  • Much more….just ask!

What are some tips to make starting a new school or new school year go smoothly for my child with hearing loss?

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” – Henry Ford

Begin the school year with an open mind! Every year and every teacher is different. Work with school staff to set up a beginning of the year in-service to ensure the team is prepped with the skills necessary to teach your child. Work with your hearing related service provider to provide information on hearing loss, the equipment your child will be using, basic troubleshooting procedures, and accommodations/modifications to aid in your child’s success. Also, plan to set up a classroom in-service for your child’s classmates to learn more about hearing loss and ways they can maximize communication in the classroom.

How did you decide to work with kids with hearing loss?

“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” – Unknown

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a teacher. As I got older, I started being exposed to children with special needs, as at that time, the push for inclusion began. I started providing babysitting services for a little girl with Down Syndrome. She made my love and passion for children with special needs grow even more. One of the most interesting aspects of working with her was that she used sign language as her primary mode of communication. Long story short, I became fascinated with sign language. When it was time to pick a major in college I absolutely knew I wanted to teach special education, but I wasn’t sure what area to specialize in. I made the leap and went the deaf education route. I thought, “How cool, I can teach kids in sign language!” Boy, was I wrong….there were so many cultural aspects, communication methodologies, medical terms, and daunting statistics regarding the ability of children with hearing loss to succeed academically. All of that on top of just learning how to teach. This profession opened me up to a world I truly knew nothing about and the more I learned, the more fascinated I became. With that being said, I was also exposed to cochlear implants and teaching children with hearing loss to listen and speak. I sought out experiences to learn more about programs that educated children using these methodologies and knew this was the area of teaching I wanted to focus on. Upon graduation I accepted a position at a local auditory oral school and the rest is history! Looking back on it almost 20 years later, I couldn’t have made a better whimsical decision. This is what I was meant to do and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

What do you love best about your job?

“Give a man a fish you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Maimonides

Everything! First and foremost, the kiddos! They are the absolute best. I love watching them grow and progress, and they make my days bright. I am passionate about empowering parents and educating them to be their child’s best advocate. In addition, my position allows me to reach the teachers who are educating your children. If I can impact them to make positive changes in the way they provide services to children with hearing loss, I have been able to touch multiple children’s lives.

If you could tell parents of kids with hearing loss one piece of advice, what would it be?

“Sometimes the things we can’t change end up changing us.” – Unknown

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and trust the process. There will be ever changing parts of your child’s hearing loss journey but your team of experts are here to support you!


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