- Hearing and Speech Agency


Rachael Anna Stetina is a bright and creative 9-year-old girl who is thriving at the Waldorf School in Baltimore. As a newborn, she failed her hearing screening twice, then failed her follow-up audiology test two weeks later. By two months, further testing showed that Rachael was profoundly deaf.

The news was shocking to Rachael’s parents, Naomi and Jay. Naomi, who comes from a family of musicians, remembers feeling “devastated.” She and her husband tried to find out as much as possible about deafness, treatment for hearing loss, and language development in deaf children.

At four months, Rachael was given hearing aids. She was growing so fast that her parents had to have her fitted with new earmolds every 2 to 3 weeks. Naomi and Jay also began to learn American Sign Language and found help for Rachael both from the Baltimore Infants and Toddlers Program and the Maryland School for the Deaf. They put Rachael into speech therapy and enrolled her in the toddler class at the Maryland School for the Deaf, while simultaneously continuing to study and ask questions about cochlear implants. By the time Rachael was 18 months old, she had learned 500 signs. Her teacher remarked that she signed as well as a deaf child of deaf parents. Rachael was creative with her signing and came up with combinations for expressing ideas that proved she was bright and taking well to the language.

“We had a perfectly happy, healthy child who was communicating,” explains Naomi. The decision about whether or not to risk the invasive surgery required to give their daughter a cochlear implant was extremely difficult. By opting for the cochlear implant, they would be beginning the process of taking Rachael away from the Deaf community—a community that Rachael and her family had come to know and love. Friends in the Deaf community tried to convince Naomi and her husband that there was nothing wrong with their daughter. “She just can’t hear you,” they would say. The cochlear implant would “take away her birthright,” they argued. 

Today, Rachael’s parents do not regret their decision to get a cochlear implant for Rachael. When Rachael was three, they enrolled her in Gateway School’s Listening and Spoken Language Preschool “Little Ears, Big Voices” for a trial run. In just one summer, Rachael’s speech-language abilities “took off,” explains her mother. “When Rachael came into the Auditory/Oral Preschool program, she pronounced her name ‘Ah Aw,’” says Naomi. “Within six months she could say ‘Rachael.’” By age four, Rachael could be understood by family, friends and peers who did not know sign language.

After two years in Gateway’s Auditory/Oral Preschool, Rachael was ready to succeed in mainstream school. “Teachers at the Auditory/Oral Preschool gave Rachael the gift of spoken language,” says Naomi. “But they also gave her confidence and pride in who she is.”

Rachael likes to show people her implant and answer questions about how it works. On a recent afternoon, a teacher in her summer art program waved goodbye to Rachael as she headed home and playfully whispered “Genius, Super Model” to Rachael’s dad. “Rachael will thrive in any situation,” says Naomi. “We just had to do our part and give her the absolute best start in life. And though she still needs a great deal of help from us, Rachael is determined. She’s got enough joie de vivre to persevere and she’s becoming a very capable young lady.”

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HASAHarry and Jeanette Weinberg Building 5900 Metro Drive Baltimore, MD 21215 410.318.6780