Health & Medical Guide

Breaking the silence

By Liz Hellmann, Staff Writer

Noah Pederson is a healthy 3-year-old boy who gets scared by the vacuum cleaner, loves music and pretending to play air guitar, and likes to pester his sisters.

The latter is a given, but the first two are nothing short of a miracle for Noah, who was born hard of hearing.

The only way Noah is able to talk and to hear sounds quieter than a vacuum cleaner is through his hearing aid and the special education he receives at the Northern Voices Oral Deaf School in Roseville.

The school specializes in helping newborns through early elementary aged children who are deaf or hard of hearing learn how to speak.

By the time most children are in second grade they are integrated back into their local schools.

Noah’s parents, Mark and Denise Pederson of Howard Lake, enrolled Noah in the school nine months ago, when they first found out about it.

“We did it so he could get into speech therapy and learn how to react to voice faster than if I was just working with him,” Denise said.

Northern Voices is the Upper Midwest’s oral-only school, and as such, does not teach sign language.

Before they heard of the school from parents who had a deaf boy attending the school, the Pedersons did not know oral school was an option.

This mode of teaching has transformed the way Noah is able to communicate.

“Nine months ago he was just saying ‘ah.’ Now I’d say he’s on the low end of average for his age,” Denise said.

Noah has also been doing his homework, and loves to imitate people.

Whenever Noah says something incorrectly, Denise points to her lips and says it right. Then Noah imitates what he sees her say.

This is an improvement Denise is positive Noah would not see without the Northern Voices School.

“The teachers around here just don’t have the experience with hard of hearing or deaf children. It would have been a much longer process,” Denise said.

The odds were stacked against Noah before he was even born.

His father, Mark, is also hard of hearing, and Denise knew there was a 25 percent chance her children would be also.

When the Pederson’s three little girls, Kayla, 8, Ashley, 7, and Emily, 5, were all born with good hearing, little Noah didn’t have much of a chance.

Noah visits the Northern Voices Oral Deaf School four days a week during the school year from 8:30 a.m. to noon.

The school is located in classrooms at the St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Roseville.

There, Noah joins 13 of his peers, who also have hearing difficulties, in a normal pre-k classroom.

Each member of the class is pulled out during the day for a special half an hour of speech therapy.

A deaf teacher and two paras conduct the regular classroom work.

Children as young as infants come to the school for speech therapy.

When Noah isn’t in school on Wednesdays, he joins the Early Childhood Family Education in Dassel-Cokato, where he can work with a deaf teacher.

The Dassel Cokato school also has a radio system in which teachers can wear a lapel microphone that is hooked up to a hearing device Noah wears, so he can hear the teacher over other classroom noise.

Next year, Noah will spend Wednesdays in pre-kindergarten, and the rest of the week at Northern Voices.

In two years, Noah will join the rest of his hearing peers in kindergarten at Dassel-Cokato and take speech therapy once a week.

“We choose oral education to give our child the most of life in a hearing world,” Denise said.

But the education that accelerated Noah’s hearing and speech development was not an easy choice, and like everything, came with a price tag.

The commute from Howard Lake to Roseville is long, and the out-of-pocket tuition hovers around $27,000 a year.

But the Pedersons were helped out with financial assistance and grants. In fact, each family that applies to Northern Voices has the opportunity to have tuition adjusted according to its income.

The tuition is then supplemented by the grants from the Oberkotter Foundation.

For more information about the Northern Voices Oral Deaf School visit www.northernvoices.org.

Published August 2006

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