Being the only child dealing with hearing loss in the classroom can be isolating, but being surrounded by peers wearing cochlear implants in a camp setting gives a sense of belonging.
That is what a group of children experience each summer during the University of Texas Dallas’ (UTD) Cochlear Camp. The unique learning experience allows children who wear cochlear implants to be around other children going through the same thing and strengthens their listening, speech, and language skills.
Each summer, the weeklong event gives kids wearing cochlear implants, an electronic device affixed to the head and ear to allow the person who is deaf or hard of hearing to hear sounds, a chance to play and learn in an alternative setting.
The camp includes a giant inflatable obstacle course, arts and crafts, water, and group activities.
Speech-language pathologist and auditory-verbal therapist Amber Stehlik of the UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders told the Dallas News that the camp was a “novel” setting for kids to put what they’ve learned in speech therapy to use.
“It mimics recess, it mimics the classroom setting, but it’s hopefully a little bit more fun and a little bit more engaging so that they’re motivated to practice listening with that background noise,” Stehlik said.
The camp, in its 25th year, came together for the first time this year after a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic.
UTD graduate students studying speech-language pathology facilitate the camp activities under the supervision of Stehlik. The grad students learn from the children as they plan activities tailored to the children’s various communication levels and goals.
“We just focus on where they’re at, and we enhance and go to the next level of where their speech, communication, or hearing may be,” said Jaycie Wooten, one of the grad students.
The camp allows grad students to work with students outside the classroom, in a setting where they can practice hearing, localizing sounds, and hearing their friends’ voices.
“That’s how kids learn. They learn from their peers,” Wooten said.
Bonding is the best part of the camp, as some former camp participants return as high school and college volunteers to lend support and reconnect with friends.
Cochlear implant recipient Ava Varela, an 8-year-old camper, said she has never met anyone else in her school with the device. She said coming to camp is “a great way to help you see how other people communicate with their implants.”