Cued speech workshop planned in Gorham

Three-year-old Marie Holt, who has impairments in both her hearing and vision, is learning how to communicate with a method called cued speech. (COURTESY PHOTO)

DUMMER — Marie Holt is a 3-year-old Dummer girl who uses cued speech with her family to access spoken language. Marie is deaf-blind, which means she has impairments in both her hearing and vision.

“It’s no mistake that my wife Heather has degrees in communication sciences and disorders, school counseling, and play and creative arts therapies ... all of which have been invaluable in teaching Marie thus far and choosing a mode of communication (cued speech) to allow Marie full access to the speaking world,” said her father, John.

On Feb. 15 and 16, a cued speech workshop will be held at the Family Resource Center in Gorham, sponsored by the Cued Speech Association of Maine and The Family Resource Center. Cued speech is a system that provides complete visual access to spoken language using one hand and the natural mouth movements of speaking.

The presenter, Nicole Dobson, M.S., is a certified speech-language pathologist, teacher of the deaf, and special education consultant.

She has been working in the field of deaf education for 20 years. She provides American Sign Language, cued language, communication, education and speech support services as a service provider and consultant. She works in early intervention, pre-K-12 education and teaches at the University of Maine. She supports families and educators using cued speech with their children and students.

This workshop will cover a basic understanding of cued speech, the handshapes, locations, and mechanics of cueing at the word and sentence level, and cuereading skills. Topics related to speech, language, and learning for deaf, hard of hearing  and deaf-blind children/students will also be addressed.

This workshop is perfect for parents, families, community members, educators, speech-language pathologists, teachers of the deaf, sign language interpreters and individuals who are interested in becoming a cued language transliterator or intervenor.

“This workshop isn’t just for our daughter,” said Marie’s mother, Heather. “This is to help other parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing see a system that provides complete access to spoken language, without having to learn a second language; a huge feat for a parent learning of their child’s deafness. Marie will always miss information due to her hearing loss without us trying to become fluent in cued speech. Anyone who has any level of hearing loss can attest to how hard it is socially to interact with, even your own family, when you are constantly missing sounds or mishearing sounds and therefore information. You often feel left out or misunderstood. We want Marie and other local children to have the services that are in the guidelines as specified by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education to ensure they don’t slip through the cracks.”

Important work is happening at the state level in regards to the establishment of a Deaf Bill of Rights in NH (HB 631) and with The All Together Now Project and Department of Education. The state has realized that children are not being given the range of services they need to ensure learning and progress in all areas of education, not just academics.

Heather is one of two parent members in New Hampshire on the All Together Now Project and wants to help ensure a change in the education of children who are deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind. The Holt family is working closely with Perkins School for the Blind to ensure both an appropriate placement for their daughter and for full access, the same access as a child without hearing loss, which is the law.

“As parents and educators, we feel passionate and want to help positively effect change,” said Heather. “Please, if you are interested in communicating with Marie, come and learn with us. We were so touched to hear of a Newton family whose child was born deaf and 20 neighbors in the area joined together to learn sign language to support and interact with the boy. We are a community and have people ask daily how to cue Hi to Marie. Living in the North Country with a small community is a beautiful blessing. Moving to get good services is not necessary if we all work together and use creative means to learn and to get quality services. With Milan Village School behind us, we are doing just that.”

If you are a parent of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing, scholarships are available. For questions about registration, scholarships or for a workshop flyer, email access.dobson@gmail.com or contact Heather with any questions regarding using cued speech at heatheraday@yahoo.com

“Marie attracts so much attention when out and about in the community,” said Heather. “There’s just something about her… her sweet, sensitive spirit, her upward, coy, glance at the person kind enough to kneel down in an attempt to fully engage her and communicate with her. She is truly beautiful. We wouldn’t change a thing about her.”

More information on cued speech and use with different populations, such as dyslexia, autism, cerebral palsy, reading, auditory neuropathy, developmental and learning disabilities etc. can be found at cuedspeech.org. If you want a free copy of the National Guidelines for students who are deaf or hard of hearing you can go to nasdse.org to download a book called "Optimizing Outcomes for Students Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing — Educational Service Guidelines" from the National Association of State Directors of Special Education.

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