Carls Foundation awards $314,400 to help children hear

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Photo of a child getting a hearing exam.

WMU receives grant to help children with hearing problems.

KALAMAZOO—The Carls Foundation of Detroit has given $314,400 to Western Michigan University to support programs designed to help older children with hearing problems.

The gift will continue support for infants identified with hearing loss as newborns and will also support services for late-identified infants and children, as well as children who are making slow progress in auditory, speech and language development. According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 98 percent of infants in the United States are screened for hearing loss at birth. However, as many as 40 to 60 percent of infants who do not pass the hearing screening are not seen for a follow-up diagnostic evaluation. Infants who do not have access to early diagnosis and intervention are at risk for delays in auditory, speech and language development.

Though newborn hearing screening has reduced the age of identification significantly, not all cases of permanent childhood hearing loss are detected. A recent study reported that neonatal hearing screening programs would not detect the 10 to 20 percent of cases of permanent childhood hearing loss that start later in life. Studies show approximately nine to 10 children out of 1,000 will have identifiable permanent hearing loss in one or both ears by school age.

"Programs that target children with hearing impairments at various stages throughout their preschool, primary and secondary educations are critical if children with hearing loss are to reach their maximum potential," says Dr. Teresa Crumpton, a master faculty specialist in speech pathology and audiology. "This generous grant from the Carls Foundation will target program development focusing on children with hearing loss from infancy through middle school and beyond, as well as support for their families."

Developments during the past 25 years have shown that, with early, optimal intervention, children can achieve speech-language and auditory milestones consistent with typically developing peers. However, barriers such as late identification and reduced parental self-confidence and access to services, as well as the quality of intervention programs and use of hearing aids and cochlear implants all affect desired outcomes.

New, intertwined initiatives

The Carls funding will support new, intertwined initiatives focusing on the needs of children of all ages with hearing impairments. Specifically, the award will:

  • Provide funding for client scholarships to support ongoing early diagnosis and intervention services. This would build upon services available through prior support from the Carls Foundation.
  • Expand identification and auditory habilitation programs to meet the needs of late-identified children. The award will help pay for aural rehabilitation and diagnostic equipment needed for a wider range of testing and treatment.
  • Develop a parent initiative designed to improve parental self-confidence. Studies show that mothers whose children enroll late in intervention services have lower self-confidence, are less involved in monitoring hearing devices and less likely to promote effective language learning.
  • Develop two new mentoring programs for preteens and teens who are at risk for discontinued use of assistive technology. This would help reduce the perceived negative stigma associated with hearing loss and use of a hearing device.
  • Provide scholarships for the education of students and professionals to become highly qualified to work with children who are hard of hearing, especially in interdisciplinary team environments. This part of the project involves continued development of educational options and clinical internships for speech-language pathology master's and audiology doctoral students.

Carls Foundation legacy

The Carls Foundation has a long legacy of providing vital gifts to Michigan nonprofit organizations, including many in West Michigan. William Carls, a German immigrant who made his fortune in the booming Detroit industrial scene of the 20th century, spent a lifetime giving back to the charities he loved. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the foundation's establishment by William and Marie Carls. Through the foundation, the work started by William and Marie Carls lives on many years after their passing.

This is the latest in a series of awards from the foundation to WMU's Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology. The grants continue to be instrumental in funding the University's efforts to help children with hearing problems live happy, productive lives.

"We are so fortunate to have been the recipient of more than $600,000 from the Carls Foundation," says Dr. Ann Tyler, department chair. "Their generosity and confidence in our programs have helped us to increase services for children with hearing loss in Southwest Michigan and educate the next cadre of professionals who will continue to champion the service needs of this population."