As Cora Buck squished a bright green lump of modeling dough between her fingers, she let out a little laugh when a teacher put some on her nose.
"Are you making a snake?" Cheryl Broekelmann asked the wide-eyed child during a recent visit to the classroom. "Is that a scary snake? Say, no, it's a happy snake. Can you show me your happy face? Happy!" Cora gritted her lower teeth to make a silly smile, eliciting laughter from her teachers. The two-year-old's ability to communicate has grown rapidly since birth, when her parents learned via a newborn hearing screening that their daughter had hearing loss.
Krista and Tom Buck came to St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf not long after their daughter's birth. Cora was fitted for hearing aids, and she started receiving home visits with a therapist. At the age of 2, she began attending the toddler classroom that meets three times a week. The family still receives weekly home visits and monthly audiology services. The goal, Krista Buck said, is "getting her into mainstream (school)" when it's time for preschool. "There's no reason she should be held back by her hearing loss, and St. Joseph is very much focusing on the spoken language."
Technically speaking, what Buck is referring to is the institute's focus on auditory-oral — also known as listening and spoken language — education. "Helping families create an environment that is so rich in language and conducive to learning language through the auditory channel is the whole goal," said Broekelmann, director of operations for the institute's St. Louis location and an educator for more than 30 years.
Through early intervention, children such as Cora are equipped to learn language the same way a hearing child does, making the transition into the preschool classroom much easier.