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Saugerties CSD Spotlights Student in Honor of National Deaf Awareness Month

Saugerties Elementary School student Jacob Gumbel is like any typical 10-year-old. He loves to climb, plays baseball, and spends a lot of time in front of a video game console. But what makes Jacob a little more unique is that behind each ear, he wears a bright-red hearing device—a stylish addition to his wardrobe that he refers to as his “superpowers,” because they make his life a whole lot easier at school and at home.

            Jacob has been wearing hearing aids since he was four years old, prior to entering Kindergarten at Riccardi Elementary School. When he was born, he failed the very first hearing test doctors give to newborns, and his mother, Eileen, became worried. Doctors originally thought that his hearing issue was due to an ear infection.

Later, Eileen noticed that Jacob wasn’t talking as quickly as other toddlers, and when he did speak, he did so very quietly. A neighbor and friend of Eileen’s noticed this, too, and pointed out another potential indicator of hearing loss—Jacob’s pronunciation of some words were quite similar to how someone else she knew with hearing loss pronounced them.

Although Eileen continued to bring him to pediatricians, they continued to misdiagnose the hearing loss; instead, they blamed fluid and ear infections as the culprits. Nothing really changed until, finally, at age four, Jacob failed another hearing test at a wellness check. The doctor then suggested hearing aids. Eileen immediately brought Jacob to an audiologist and he was fitted for hearing devices. He also started early-intervention therapies and testing that would help him adjust to his new lifestyle.

Jacob remembers the moment when he first put on his hearing aids. It was a rainy day, and as he sat in the back of his mom’s car he shouted, “I can’t believe how loud the rain sounds!”

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, approximately three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears. Statistics say even hearing loss in one ear can have a tremendous impact on school performance. Fortunately, the Saugerties Central School District (SCSD) acted quickly to provide the resources to identify Jacob’s needs.

Jacob entered Kindergarten the same year he started wearing hearing aids, and officially began his life as a student who needed a little extra consideration, so that he could reach his full potential. Teachers and administrators within the SCSD began the process of evaluating Jacob for a 504 Plan, which would provide him with the least restrictive environment in which to learn, where barriers to language and communication would be minimized.

“I had no idea of how these things really worked,” said Eileen. “So, it was great that they took the lead in getting Jacob what he needed.”

Jacob’s plan includes seating near a speaker, which broadcasts the teacher’s voice through a microphone. Jacob says this helps a lot. He also prefers a smaller, quieter classroom, where it is much easier to hear and learn. Jacob says certain situations can still be tough. At school, lunchrooms tend to be very noisy, he explains.

But Jacob has a few tricks of his own up his sleeve. He says the hearing aids help him feel like a superhero, but it is clear that he brings his own brand of superpowers to the table, too. Jacob is great at adapting. Since hearing devices can really only improve hearing, rather than solve the problem completely—people who wear hearing aids never truly hear as well as those with no hearing issues. So, Jacob has taught himself to pay close attention to facial expressions and body language to help him understand what people are trying to communicate.

Jacob enjoys playing both basketball and baseball, but cannot wear his hearing aids during these activities. Since hearing aids are essentially amplifiers, it can get too loud on the basketball court, and in any sport, there is the chance of damaging the devices. To adapt, he closely watches his coach and other players for communication cues.

“I keep my eyes on the dugout during baseball and watch my coach,” says Jacob, who plays second base.

In the classroom, too, he is aware of his needs and isn’t afraid to speak up. When asked if he is hesitant to ask a teacher to repeat something, his answer is a quick and resolute “No!”

Eileen is grateful that Jacob’s hearing loss was diagnosed when it was, and that it was treated correctly, because she now knows that if his hearing loss continued to be untreated it would have caused bigger delays in his speech development, and he could have been misidentified as having a different learning disability such as Attention Deficit Disorder. “Intervention is crucial because a child who is supported at school and at home has the best chance of success,” she said. 

September is National Deaf Awareness month, which focuses attention on those with moderate-to-severe hearing loss, like Jacob. There are many things people can do to assist those with hearing impairments. For instance, it helps to look at the person when speaking to them; say their name before starting a conversation; and avoid attempting conversation from across the room. It also doesn’t hurt to project your voice a little higher than normal, and try to be patient when someone doesn’t hear the first time. Jacob agrees, and says that his favorite teacher was “loud and didn’t get mad too much at the class.”