Whildin Society

The Whildin Society celebrates and honors committed HASA supporters and provides financial stability to interpreting, educational and therapeutic programs through monthly giving. Whildin Society members also have exclusive access to HASA events, classes, programs, and merchandise!




By giving monthly to HASA, you will become a member of The Whildin Society and be able to help a client connect with their world.

What could your gift do? As little as $5 a month Could Mean a life-saving connection 


$5 a month can provide a speech-language therapy session for a child who struggles to communicate.

$10 a month can provide ASL-accessible programming at a local arts event, community program, or the funeral of a Deaf community member.  

$25 a month can provide a hearing device to an older adult who is hard of hearing who would otherwise be unable to afford hearing health services.

$50 a month can provide specialized support for a student with communication challenges, empowering them to participate in class,  improve social skills, and grow academically.

$100 a month can sponsor one family’s speech and occupational therapy bill for a year. This gift provides relief to a family already struggling and opens the doors to true connection and communication with their child.

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Read the Latest from HASA

At HASA, we value communication and a connection to the community above all else.              



A Superhero Gets His Happy Ending

MEET CHRIS. This happy, healthy baby began to change at 14 months of age.  According to his mom, it was “as if someone hit the dimmer switch.” After being diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, Chris began the long process of evaluations and interventions from specialists in both Maryland and North Carolina. Chris attended five different schools in just six years; none of them met his needs or addressed his family’s long-term concerns about his progress. Chris was getting by in public school, but he wasn’t equipped with the tools that he needed to thrive, develop, and grow.

Everything changed in 2013 when Chris began attending Gateway School.  A switch flipped and his communication skills began to improve and he began to make new friends. Through Gateway School, Chris is making incredible progress with a team giving him individualized attention and working on his level. Your donation makes expert care available to children like Chris.


 Your gift today will ensure that we never have to turn anyone away who needs our services. For every dollar you give, 88 cents goes directly to programs and services to support the 4,000 children and adults with communication challenges—just like Chris.

Meet the Team

Gateway Girl Scouts

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

Founded in February 2015, Daisy Troop 707 consists of five girls, ages 6-11. Troops for children with special needs are uncommon. In fact, this is the only Daisy Troop in the council that is made up exclusively of girls with special needs.

Members of the troop have 1:1 support so that they can actively participate in the curriculum: there is a breathing apparatus for two members, individualized instructional supports to meet goals and additional time allowed to achieve badges.

The troop collected three petals in Girl Scout Law and earned three badges in the Daisy Flower Garden Journey. The first badge (Watering Can Award) was earned by planting flowers in a mini-garden.  Weeding a community garden garnered them a Honey Bee Award. They learned about bugs and created a worm composting bin in pursuit of the Amazing Daisy Award. 

Giving Back to Gateway

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

It had been a while since Shimmy stepped into Gateway School where he was a student for three years. Now 17, he returned to volunteer for Gateway’s summer program. “Volunteering is a good experience for young teenagers like me... I learned something interesting about the children who have a variety of different skills,” said Shimmy.

As HASA’s volunteer program grows, so does its connection to Gateway graduates who aim to reconnect with the program and its current students. Gateway School prepares students with special communication needs for the future.

As for Shimmy, he has big plans; “I’m planning to go to University R.I.T. to become a Deaf Lawyer/advocate... the deaf community in the whole United States of America needs support in... searching for jobs.” But Gateway hasn’t seen the last of him; “I’ll visit Gateway. You can call me if you want me to come help Gateway kids. That will be great for the children and me!”    

Helping Others Find Their Voice

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

Growing up in Upper Marlboro, Aaron Marshall wanted to overcome his stuttering and spent many years working with speech pathologists to do so. Now a Board member at HASA, Aaron, an attorney with Northrop Grumman, decided to give back and joined HASA’s Board of Directors.

When asked why Aaron chose to volunteer, he said, “HASA works to help people improve one of the most basic and enjoyable aspects of life:  communication. Many of us probably take for granted the ability to communicate, unless we or someone we know has communication limitations. I look forward to participating in programs offered by the Fluency Center, providing support and encouragement. I also want to better understand the causes and available treatments for stuttering.”

Aaron participates in HASA’s fluency support network. Support groups meet once per month and are offered for adults, adolescents and parents of teens who stutter. This family-centered approach is the newest offering of the Fluency Center. “I think it will be great,” Aaron says recalling his own childhood challenges. 

To learn more or to participate, call 410.318.6780 or visit our page for the Center for Fluency Enhancement.

The Art of Communication

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

Since 2010, Debbie Palmer has been volunteering at HASA’s Gateway School as an Art Therapist. For nearly three years, this mother of eight has made a weekly two-hour commute to Gateway School to work with our students.

For children with special needs, Art Therapy is a treatment based on strengths and interests as well as concerns.  It allows the students to express themselves and the emotions they are feeling, whether it be happiness, excitement, sadness, or frustration in a safe and open environment. Conducted through art-making and verbal expressions, art is seen as a language and viewed as self-talk, bringing insight to beliefs and behaviors, while empowering children beyond treatment sessions.

Debbie, who holds a B.A. in Art Therapy from the University of Maryland and a M.A. in Art Therapy from Goucher College, decided to volunteer when she found out that Gateway did not have funding for a full-time Art Therapist.  Knowing the importance and the positive impact that Art Therapy could have on the students at Gateway, Debbie decided to volunteer.  According to Debbie, “Art Therapy is a safe place to express one’s difficult emotions such as anger, anxiety or sadness.  The artwork becomes a springboard to discussing these feelings and how to handle them wisely.”   

The impact that Debbie has had on the students is immeasurable. Through art, each student is not only able to express his/her emotions, but there is usually improvement in the student’s behavior both in the classroom and at home.  In addition, Art Therapy promotes a sense of independence, facilitates positive self-esteem and encourages self-expression.  

Gateway School is clearly very lucky to have someone like Debbie who chooses to volunteer her time and expertise as an Art Therapist. She helps out as a substitute teacher, as well. One thing that Debbie wants to make sure that everyone knows is that “Success in Art Therapy can be attributed to the total involvement of the HASA/Gateway School staff.”  The teachers and staff at Gateway work together to make sure that they are providing the best experience for each student and to make sure the individual needs of the students are being met. 

A Sizeable Scholarship

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

HASA received its largest non-capital gift in its history in April 2015.  The anonymous $500,000 donation will be used to establish a scholarship fund for students and clients who may otherwise be unable to afford tuition at Gateway School or for therapeutic services in the Clinic.  

The Board of Directors decided on an investment vehicle for the funds and hopes to have $25,000 each year available for new scholarships without utilizing the principal gift, providing an ongoing foundation of support for financial aid services. Since the inception of the endowment, another $56,774 has been added to the fund.

Last year, HASA provided more than $300,000 in charitable care to children and adults who would otherwise be unable to receive educational and therapeutic services from HASA clinicians and educators. This gift will ensure that we will be able to help even more families communicate more effectively.

Celebrating 40 Years of Service

"From the moment I arrived, it was like coming home... I owe so much to the families who shared their lives with me. We learned together. As a Board member, I take delight in the many ways in which HASA serves the community. It is a glorious world."

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

Miriam Zadek joined the staff of The Hearing and Speech Agency in June 1975 to develop a social work model of intervention with families where a child had a problem in communication.  She founded The Centralized Interpreter Referral Service (CIRS) in 1986 and has been involved as a volunteer since 1994. We asked Miriam a few questions about her 40-year history with the organization.

In what way were you already familiar with communication differences?  
I grew up with two deaf sisters. Deafness now extends over three more generations in my family, so I know the vital importance of appropriate communication. We communicate via sign, lip reading, text and email.

How is HASA different today?
In those days, HASA offered only auditory-oral programs for the hearing impaired, along with interventions for children and adults with other communicative disorders.

What about your time at HASA makes you most proud?
I am most gratified that I was able to initiate an interpreter service for the deaf, an expansion of support programs for those who were hard of hearing and recognition that all avenues for effective communication were important.

You can read more in her blog www.gertalert.wordpress.com.


Gateway School Gets Involved


Gateway School celebrated the month of April by “Lighting it Up Blue” with a long, blue paper chain for Autism awareness and planting a Pinwheel Garden to bring attention to the issue of child abuse and neglect.

Gateway students constructed a blue chain with 482 links out of construction paper, tape and ingenuity. Said Educational Director Jill Berie, “It’s amazing when our students come together to create something magnificent.” The chain was hung in Gateway, and teachers then hung 7 figures throughout the 482-link chain to represent the one in 68 children affected by autism in the United States.

The students didn’t stop their advocacy there: two weeks later, they decorated and planted a Pinwheel Garden as part of the Family Tree’s Abuse Prevention Month. Gateway’s Pinwheel Garden is still thriving. “The pinwheels always make me smile,” said Executive Assistant Eileen Cuttill, “The children did such a wonderful job.”

Autism Awareness Month and Child Abuse Prevention Month are both celebrated each April. Light it Up Blue is a program started by Autism Speaks, while Pinwheel Gardens are part of the Pinwheels for Prevention program through The Family Tree. Both initiatives are a way to increase knowledge and awareness and to generate discussion and support.

Gateway students are excited to be involved in the community and to make a difference through creativity and kinship. Visit Gateway School online at hasa.org/school to learn more.


Exploring History: The Voice and Vision Series

On November 19, 1926, Dr. Olive A. Whildin sat down with a group of colleagues and members of the community in the first meeting of the Speech Reader’s League of Baltimore in order to address the needs of the hard of hearing in the area. Almost 90 years later, the organization that grew from her vision is exploring the past in order to look to the future.

HASA is in the midst of hosting a series of open houses called The Voice and Vision Series where former students, employees, volunteers, and others share their stories and mementos in order to build a richer and fuller archive as HASA enters its 90th year in 2016. 

So far, HASA’s Voice and Vision Series has seen the return of former Gateway students, students of ASL, and former employees, including former Educational Director Holly North who remembers her time at HASA with fondness; “It was like a family here; everyone was always supportive.” 

September saw the first of the Open Houses during the International Week of the Deaf where an interpreter from HASA’s Centralized Interpreter Referral Service provided interpretation for a former student of Gateway who explored page after page of picture slides from the early 1970s, picking out the pictures of himself and his classmates. In October he returned with memorabilia of his own, such as his memory book with pictures from his days at Gateway, as well as his bookbag and lesson books. HASA was fortunate enough to get copies and pictures, which were then filed into its newly-formed archive.

The event series is one of the ways HASA is ramping up for its 90th anniversary celebration in 2016. The goal is to preserve the history of the organization as it looks to grow in the future. Be on the lookout for stories and artifacts from our archive on social media and for our upcoming VIBE 16: Speakeasy, a roaring twenties gala to be held in May.

If you have any mementos or pictures from HASA’s earlier days, please consider sharing them with us to help preserve our history. For more information, contact our Communications and Community Engagement Manager at edickerson@hasa.org or (410) 318-6780.

Learn, Grow, Communicate

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl  Take advantage of the many classes that HASA offers to make communication accessible and to get involved in your community! Visit this link to see the events and classes HASA offers.


For a child learning to communicate, every single word is magic.


You can give a child a brighter future when you support the therapeutic and educational programs provided by HASA. Your gift can help a child develop the language skills necessary for self-confidence, self-expression, school success, and individual well-being  -  whether the child is deaf or hard of hearing or struggling with autism, developmental delays, fluency, literacy, voice disorders, or speech-language differences.  

Since 1926, HASA has been committed to the speech, language and hearing needs of Baltimore’s children. With generous community support this year:

  • An educational child care program for children with and without communication challenges was launched, expanding services to a broader community and providing a language-based curriculum.
  • ASL classes were offered to babies, toddlers, and children throughout the year to improve language skills for children as well as their parents who attended the classes with them.
  • Scholarship funds were made available to 10% of Gateway students through the Frances Scholarship Endowment Fund and the Goelet Scholars Program.
  • Financial assistance has been offered to families in need so that better speech, language, hearing, and learning are accessible to all.

No matter a child’s communication challenge, HASA can help. And so can you.

Please consider a gift to HASA’s Annual Fund, a major source of funding that helps provide special education, audiology, speech-language therapy and sign language interpreting services to more than 4,000 children and adults each year. Your gift ensures accessibility to quality intervention, therapeutic and support services to all families  - no matter their ability to pay. Your donation improves HASA’s ability to make hearing, speaking, understanding and learning accessible to everyone who comes to us for care.


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Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl


An Early Leap into the Mainstream

Photo by David Rehor
Written by Stephanie Shapiro

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

In the airy lobby of Gateway School in Baltimore, 5-year-old Elena Pearlstein bounces out of class and into her father’s arms. She cups his head in her hands and says in adoration, “Your face.”

Then Elena jumps down. It’s late in the morning, time to leave “Little Ears, Big Voices,” Gateway’s preschool program for children with hearing loss, to resume the second half of the school day at St. James Academy in Monkton.

A year and a half ago, Jonathan and Michele Pearlstein couldn’t imagine that their daughter would be ready for a mainstream classroom. “We had a child who wasn’t speaking and we were afraid that she wasn’t going to be able to go to kindergarten at the age she should have,” Michele Pearlstein says. “Now she’s splitting her time between Gateway and a mainstream school and she’s holding her own.” Next year, Elena will leave Gateway to attend St. James Academy full time.

At age three, Elena entered Gateway’s preschool, where intensive speech-language therapy, an on-site audiologist and a nurturing early learning environment have brought her up to speed developmentally with hearing peers.

At one time, the Pearlsteins had reason to worry that their daughter’s disability would always hold her back. Elena’s hearing loss wasn’t appropriately diagnosed until the age of 18 months. By then, she had never had the consistent hearing experience that is critical for speech and language development. The “one size fits all” approach offered by Harford County’s public preschool program was of little use in addressing Elena’s particular challenges.

As her parents searched for solutions, Elena began retreating into her own quiet world, opting not to play with other children and exhibiting behavior problems. The stress took its toll on the couple, who also have an 8-year-old daughter.

Then they discovered Gateway and paid a visit. It didn’t take long to know it was the right fit for Elena, although it would mean an hour commute to Baltimore and a super-sized financial commitment. Ultimately, Michele and Jonathan Pearlstein realized that their daughter’s welfare was well worth any such inconvenience.

“Since Elena was late in being diagnosed, we were not going to look back on this and have any regrets,” says Jonathan Pearlstein, a self-employed financial advisor who works on his laptop in the school’s parent resource library while Elena attends school.

A less costly program closer to home “may or may not have worked, but we would always wonder if there was something better out there,” Pearlstein says.

Today, there’s no wondering. Elena has become a chatty, outgoing child who makes up songs in the car and is on the verge of reading. She cracks jokes, takes ballet lessons, wants to do karate like her sister and will play lacrosse at St. James Academy, coached by her father.

Elena has come so far, that “a lot of kids in her class at St. James don’t even know she has hearing aids,” Michele Pearlstein says. “We were afraid she’d stand out. She doesn’t.”

A Team for Every Student

Written by Stephanie Shapiro
Photo by David Rehor

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

Marguerite Loeschke follows her imagination down railroad tracks and under the sea. The 5-year-old girl would like to become the engineer of a historic steam locomotive out West, but also ponders life as a mermaid who swims with the “King of the Blue Whales.”

Taking a break from her kindergarten class at Gateway, Marguerite, who has an autism spectrum disorder, draws that big blue whale, plus a tiny mermaid to keep him company. She completes the picture with a boat and her neatly printed name.

Since coming to Gateway, “Marguerite’s progress has been amazing,” says her mother, Kate Hollander. Like other parents of children with communication disorders, Hollander and husband Paul Loeschke first struggled to understand their daughter’s difficulties and how to help her.

At the age of two and a half, Marguerite’s social isolation and poor verbal skills became apparent. “It was very clear that she was bright, but in other ways she was atypical of kids her age in the way she communicated and related to other children,” says Hollander, who noted Marguerite’s atypical behavior while on maternity leave after the birth of a second daughter.

Monthly, and then weekly, speech-language therapy provided through Baltimore City’s Infant and Toddlers program proved ineffective. “We weren’t getting anywhere,” Hollander says. “Looking back it’s pretty obvious. But when it’s your first child, it’s difficult to recognize the signs of developmental delay.”

At three and a half, Marguerite was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder known as Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Determined to find the services that best served their daughter’s needs, Hollander and Loeschke began the arduous process of developing an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Under federal law, an IEP guarantees a free and appropriate education to children with special needs.

But the search for the right school for Marguerite continued until Hollander mentioned their predicament to an uncle. He referred her to Gateway, describing the school as a “miracle worker” for a friend’s child, who eventually went on to college and a career.

As soon as Hollander, along with her husband and Marguerite, set foot in Gateway, “I fell in love with the place,” she says. At Gateway Marguerite quickly began to flourish. “You have this amazing team of people, a special education teacher, an instructional assistant, speech-language and occupational therapists, a psychologist and a social worker taking a comprehensive approach,” her grateful mother says.

Marguerite’s memory, love of music and drawing have become catalysts for improving her speech and modifying her rigid adherence to routines. Hollander praises the strategies the Gateway team uses to introduce subtle changes to Marguerite’s daily habits and teach her to take turns with her sister.

When Marguerite has difficulties at home, Gateway comes through as well for her parents. “They give me ideas, they give me tools and they give me strategies,” Hollander says. 

She and her husband have learned, for example, to draw Marguerite into conversations with statements specific to the day’s activities, such as “‘Oh, you pretended to be a bear and made a cave,’ instead of simply asking the open-ended ‘What did you do today?’”

Just as important, Hollander says, Gateway has helped her and Loeschke “to also enjoy Marguerite’s silences - because she is a warm, loving child who sometimes just wants to cuddle on the couch and not talk.”

She Couldn't Hear the Fire Alarm

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl


Avigail Rubin has found the perfect environment to foster her love of learning while she develops her language skills



As soon as Charles (Yechiel) and Rochelle Rubin brought their daughter Avigail home, they knew that their family was complete. Now, their two beautiful daughters were almost exactly the same age. Ilana was born in Guatemala and Avigail in Belarus, but in their Baltimore home, they were, in essence, twin sisters.

But these two sisters were very different. While Ilana developed at a typical pace, Avigail was still not speaking at 22 months. The Rubins had her hearing checked and were told that her hearing was perfect. So they sought other solutions.

She began to receive speech-language therapy and, at the age of four, started in a pre-school that could offer a language-rich curriculum and intensive speech-language therapy at Gateway School. When school started that year, Avigail was still not talking.

Early in the academic year, there was a fire drill at school. Her classmates were frightened, as they'd never heard such a loud siren inside before. But Avigail continued playing, as if nothing had happened. Her teacher, Ritika Kochar, knew immediately that Avigail couldn't hear the alarm.

Since Gateway School is part of HASA, there was an audiologist just upstairs who could give her a hearing evaluation. She had her hearing tested immediately, and she failed. Avigail had profound hearing loss. The Rubin family realized that they'd been given the wrong test results the first time around and that their daughter had lost three years of language development. It was a heartbreaking discovery.

It seems that a bit of kismet was at work because Gateway School has a unique Auditory/Oral Preschool Program that is designed for children with hearing loss to learn to listen and to speak. Once Avigail received her hearing aids, she was placed in the program and remained there for two years. Now that she could finally hear, she began to utter noises and attempt to replicate the sounds around her. By the end of the second year, she was able to speak words and express her wants in a way that could be understood by those around her. It was a huge milestone for a little girl who, at the age of three, could not yet utter a single word.

At the completion of the Auditory/Oral Preschool Program, she wasn't yet ready to transition to a mainstream school, so she has remained at Gateway School. There, she can continue to study within the parameters of a language-rich curriculum.

According to her parents, "Gateway offers exactly what Avigail needs right now. She can expand her vocabulary and develop her communication skills, but still be challenged academically. She loves to learn and her language skills are showing constant improvement. But the most important thing is that she's happy. She loves to go to school every day."

Each year, the family has to navigate the IEP (Individualized Education Program) process to ensure that Avigail can remain at Gateway School. It's a daunting process, to say the least.

The Rubins know that the day will likely come when Avigail no longer needs the intensive services provided by Gateway School. But, for the moment, they are thankful that she is able to be at school with the friends and teachers that she has known since she was four years old.

An Alumni Profile

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

A graduate student at Coppin State University, Nicholas Johnson has a myriad of interests and loves to talk about his studies, his pastimes and his life. Meeting him today, it’s hard to believe that he didn’t speak a word until he was four years old.

Nicholas’ mom, Bernadette, knew that Nicholas was having trouble communicating and sought answers from every expert she could find. He had his hearing tested; it was fine. Some doctors thought he was autistic; he wasn’t. He exhibited no other apparent developmental delay; he simply didn’t speak. Eventually, Bernadette and Nicholas were referred to HASA for speech-language therapy. His first word, at the age of four, was kaleidoscope. Bernadette says, “Once he started talking, he never stopped.”

At the age of seven, he enrolled in Gateway School. Gateway’s small classrooms and individualized approach to learning were exactly what Nicholas needed. He stayed for three years and made lifelong friendships with his classmates. According to Nicholas, “It opened the door to everything.”

When Nicholas was nine, it was time for him to move on to public elementary school. There was a period of adjustment. He was put in special education classes that were not the right fit for him. His curiosity helped to get him through the tough times. Nicholas and some of his Gateway classmates joined the same Boy Scout troop, which helped them stay in touch and feel connected to the school that they loved so dearly.

Nicholas made it through middle school and high school, but he was shy. He didn’t read well and he didn’t quite fit in. He has an almost photographic memory – he remembers everything that he learns, but he has difficulty reading long strings of text. The advent of the Internet and the popularity of documentary films and YouTube videos changed the way Nicholas sought information. He began to read about history online and watched educational videos voraciously.

When Nicholas went on to college, it wasn’t always easy, but he made it, earning his Bachelor of Science degree in History from Coppin State University. He’s currently in a Criminal Justice graduate program. To converse with Nicholas, is to talk to a young man who has a zest for life and a passion for learning. He has a bright future ahead of him. If his time at Gateway School is any indication, he’ll be immensely successful.

Gateway Students get the Royal Treatment

The last day of school is always special for Gateway School students as the long days of summer await them. But this year was especially memorable: it was Prince and Princess Day. The children got to make crowns as a special arts & crafts project, be visited by a variety of local pageant winners and be celebrated as a prince or princess for the day. 

The event was hosted by the SERTOMA Club of Greater Baltimore, an organization dedicated to making life worthwhile through SERvice TO MAnkind, and the host of the Miss Greater Baltimore Pageant for the last seven years. Founded in 1912, SERTOMA is about to celebrate its centennial nationally and its 20th year in Baltimore. A community service organization focused on hearing, speech and communication issues, SERTOMA has been a valuable partner to HASA for more than a decade. SERTOMA has been sponsoring the Prince and Princess event at Gateway School for four years. The day is a way to celebrate the accomplishments of Gateway Students by making them feel like royalty. According to Alan Zemla, Executive Director of the Miss Greater Baltimore Pageant and a past President of the organization, “It took us a few years to figure out how to incorporate the pageant and the needs of the kids, but I think we’ve really created a special tradition; the children and the volunteers just love it."

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl Among the special guests were:

  • Carlie Colella
    Miss Maryland

  • Erin Drumheller
    Miss Greater Baltimore

  • Hannah Mollerick
    Miss Western Maryland

  • Lauren Kozlosky
    Miss Frederick

  • Stephanie Kelman
    Miss Mason-Dixon


After being named Miss Greater Baltimore 2011, Erin Drumheller went on to the state competition and won the Miss America Community Service Award for her volunteerism and her message of fire prevention.

The SERTOMA Club of Greater Baltimore is committed to serving our community, especially children and adults with communication and hearing impairments. Click here>>  to visit SERTOMA online.


When Time is of the Essence

How Gateway School's Early Intervention Techniques Can Ensure a Better Future

Excerpt from Urbanite Magazine, January 2011
by Robin T. Reid

Ebony Martin watched her toddler, Connor, flick the TV off and on repeatedly. He did the same with the light switches. He'd jump almost nonstop. And he stopped talking and began uttering small sounds instead of the few words he'd been using. Since Ebony had not observed these behaviors in his three older siblings, she took Connor to his pediatrician. The doctor referred her to Baltimore City's Infants and Toddlers Program (BITP), which then sent her to HASA to test Connor for deafness.

"His hearing was okay," Martin recalled. "They gave him speech services twice a week. But his behavior was a still a little weird, so I knew it was more than just a speech problem." HASA's team concurred and sent a doctor to observe Connor at home. The diagnosis: autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which the National Institutes of Health describes as "a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.” ASD afflicts three to six children out of every 1,000 in the United States, according to federal statistics, and boys are four times more likely to have it than girls. There is no cure for ASD, but it can be treated through medication and special education - the earlier, the better.

Thanks to his mother's keen observation skills, Connor has benefited mightily from early intervention. Martin started the Individual Education Plan process (IEP) with Baltimore City to ensure that her son got into the most appropriate school as soon as he turned 3 (the earliest possible age). And that was how she found Gateway School - housed in the same building as HASA, where he first got help. Gateway is a private school for children with special needs whose primary barrier to development is difficulty communicating. Each student has a team comprised of a special education teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and audiologist. "It's amazing to see how far Connor has come in two years,” Martin said. "He can let me know what he wants. He can make eye contact. He'll even read a book to his 2-year-old brother."

Ritika Kochar was one of Connor's first teachers at Gateway. "Children on the autism spectrum like Connor lack skills in pragmatic language - eye contact, reading nonverbal language, understanding what nonverbal language is being used, etc.," she said." When these children are targeted at the earliest sign of delay in developmental milestones, intensive therapy can give them techniques that eventually become second nature. “Intensive therapy six hours in the school each day helps 3- to 5-year-olds develop socially and gives them the basic skills necessary to function in the classroom," she added, "such as listening to teachers, staying with a group and paying attention to tasks for longer and longer periods of time."

This year, Connor is in Amanda Dougherty's class at Gateway. By using a variety of special education techniques, such as verbal and visual prompting, repetitive and visual directions, small group and individual instruction, Ms. Dougherty is helping her six kindergarten/first-graders reach their highest potential. "Once they have learned basic skills, their language skills tend to improve." Dougherty and Kochar stress the urgency of monitoring a child's developmental growth almost from birth. Parents ultimately must be the first line of defense, since pediatricians typically see children for checkups or emergencies only.

"The Maryland State Department of Education offers milestone charts that provide an age range by which children should have reached particular milestones," Kochar said. "If parents notice a significant gap between what their child should be doing at a certain age, and what they can do, then they should call Maryland Child Find [800-535-0182] to have the child evaluated."

After all of the help and services Martin secured for Connor, she is hopeful now that he will be able to transfer into a regular classroom within two years. "I couldn't have asked for a better placement for Connor than Gateway," Martin said. "If Connor had gone to any other school, I don't think he would be the person he is today. He’s been reaching all of his goals. I think he's going to be my genius child."

Students Participate in National Science Program

Gateway School was the first nonpublic school in the country to participate in the innovative BioEYES program. The school was full of excitement all week as Gateway teachers and BioEYES team members guided our students as they caught small fish in nets, peered into microscopes and petri dishes, and pointed to illustrations that matched what they saw.

Project BioEYES is a week-long, hands-on science program conducted in partnership with classroom teachers in Philadelphia, Baltimore and South Bend, IN. Designed to inspire young students to get excited about science, the program has thus far reached more than 18,000 students from preschool through 12th grade. 

Students work with live zebra fish, observing their eggs and embryos and watching them grow into fish. They learn to talk about what they see and everyone participates, regardless of their skill level or physical limitations. For group discussions (and to accommodate children who cannot look into the microscope), the program uses special adapters that project what is seen through the microscope onto a large video screen in the classroom.

“What is so fascinating about zebra fish,” says Susan Artes, Baltimore Outreach Coordinator for BioEYES, “is that they are 80% genetically similar to humans. Genes responsible for certain functions in zebra fish, for example, can be mapped to genes in humans that perform the very same functions.”

As the week unfolded, the tiny eggs that appeared on Monday, began developing eyes and tails. “The older children usually figure out what they are seeing by about Wednesday,” says Artes. “But for some of the younger children, the wiggling creatures they see by Friday are completely astounding.”

BioEYES program leaders say they are “impacting future scientists and doctors by educating these young citizens to think critically and scientifically.” And the pre- and post-surveys given to students bear that out. Most students who are ambivalent about science at the beginning of the week develop a clear excitement for science, and confidence in their ability to participate in science, by the end of the week. Children who identify themselves as loving science respond in post-project surveys that they love it even more.

And that’s exactly what happened at Gateway: “The BioEYES project was over last Friday and today [Thursday] the children are still talking about it,” says Jill Berie, Educational Director at Gateway School. “The project was perfect for our students,” she continued. “Every child had a job, so every child had a chance to do real science and that is an idea we can continue to build upon.”

For more information, please visit the BioEYES website at: http://www.bioeyes.org/.

Best Friends
Gateway’s “Big Men on Campus”

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

Shimmy and Christian are best friends. They met at Gateway School, where they are both thriving. Shimmy came to Gateway when he was nine. Born profoundly deaf, he received a cochlear implant at age five. By the time he arrived at Gateway, Shimmy had become proficient at American Sign Language, but his speech was very difficult to understand and he needed the services of a sign-language interpreter to understand what was happening in the classroom.

After two years of hard work by his HASA interpreter, his Gateway teachers and, above all, Shimmy himself, Shimmy learned to communicate very well in spoken English. “It’s hard to believe the Shimmy we first met is the talkative and very outgoing young man we see every day now,” says Shimmy’s teacher, Beth Panitz.

Christian was a healthy little boy until the day he was hit by a car in an alley near his home and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Christian was in third grade then. He had a long recovery period in which he had to relearn basic skills such as how to walk and talk. “Christian is a pleasure to work with,” says teaching assistant Mamta Kothari. “He is very motivated to learn. He’s excellent in math and his communication skills are improving all the time.”

Shimmy and Christian motivate each other. They are the “Big Men On Campus” here at Gateway, setting an excellent example for the younger students by asking their teachers for extra homework, often working together through breaks, and keeping well-organized binders for their lesson materials. They can often be seen engaged in fiercely competitive basketball games on opposite teams.

This year, they were given the joint task of running the cash register at the school store. The store is open every Friday and students can “buy” items with the gold coins they earn throughout the week for doing well in school and showing good behavior. Shimmy and Christian have taken the responsibility of running the store above and beyond what their teachers expected and they take pride in the operation.

“Every week,” explains Panitz, “Shimmy and Christian go around to the different classrooms and draw up a schedule of what class groups will visit the store when. They are careful to be there when the other students are scheduled to show up. But beyond just running the cash register, the boys help the children understand numbers and money. They even give them financial advice! They will show a child something that is too expensive to buy this week, for example, and explain that they could save up for it and buy it the following week.”

Both of the boys will graduate this year. Their friendship, their leadership and their willingness to look out for the other students has made Gateway an even more wonderful place than usual. But the unique environment at Gateway also allowed the friendship to form and thrive. Shimmy and Christian are confident, friendly young men on the brink of adulthoods that will likely be filled with true friendship and self-acceptance because of the groundwork laid by parents, friends, family and their school community during these crucial years.

Joie de vivre,
…and Art and Sound

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.

Hearing and Speech Agency of Baltimore Helped this girl

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 Auditory/Oral 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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