Program teaches young deaf children sign language

Program teaches young deaf children...

EL PASO, Texas - The busy rush to start the day at the Priddy-Loving house can be chaotic. 

Five clamoring kids yelling and laughing, two parents juggling school clothes and blow drying hair, and grandma cutting up strawberries in the kitchen. 

The sounds are a part of everyday life, but the youngest child, one-year-old Emme, only hears silence. 

Her mom, Sara Priddy, said she felt something wasn't right with Emme early on.

"When she was four-months-old her head was still really wobbly, she wasn't holding it," said Priddy. "We did a hearing screening test, it wasn't a very comprehensive one, but enough to where it alarmed the doctors. We went to audiologists after that, and they confirmed that she was deaf."

Priddy and her husband, Adam Loving, started to look at options, one of them being a cochlear implant, but after seeing a neurologist, they learned Emme had a brain lesion. 

"She can't hear anything and her ears were perfectly fine, but her brain just doesn't get the signals," Priddy said. 

That's when doctors referred them to Early Childhood Intervention, a program that coordinates services through Paso del Norte Children's Development Center and the El Paso Independent School District. 

Emme's lesion also causes muscle weakness. She regularly has physical, occupational and speech therapy.

The one-year-old and her family also work with Isabel Montes, a home sight deaf education teacher through EPISD.

Even though Emme is far from starting school, Montes works with the Priddy-Loving family to learn essential signs to help them communicate with Emme. 

Looking around their house, you'll see little yellow and white labels on items like the TV and lights that show the American Sign Language sign for the whole family. 

"They need to communicate with their sister," said Montes. "The more Emme sees signs at home, she's going to start catching on, and signing herself." 

So far, they've embraced the challenge of learning a new language. They're on lesson nine out of 20. 

"Emme is really lucky because her parents are really accepting, really quickly, of her disability," said Montes. "That doesn't always happen."

Working with other families Montes said there's a grieving process when parents find out their child is deaf. A feeling, she said, she knows all too well. 

"My oldest is deaf," said Montes."I cried for a year, I think, until I was able to move on, and say, 'You know what, it's not about you. It's about this child, this new child that's come into your life. You better get on with it.'"

But Montes went beyond just getting over it. She took her experience and used it to help others in similar situations. 

"He made me the person I am," said Montes. "I want to bring that to other parents and to other children."
Her lessons have helped. Priddy said it can be challenging having to learn a language fast and well enough to teach their child, but in the year they've been learning, she has seen Emme make strides. 

"She went from a kid who couldn't...hold her head up, to taking steps now, and signing a few signs," said Priddy. 

Montes said deaf children go through stages and moods just like hearing children. Something Moody realized when she signs a particular word to Emme. 

"Don't tell her no, she'll start crying," said Priddy. 

When the lessons are over, Emme has the option to attend an EPISD school designed for children with total hearing loss.

Her parents plan to help continue to find her every opportunity to succeed in life. They admit with life pulling them in different directions, it can be challenging, but they'll do what it takes for Emme. 

"I think she's perfect the way she is," said Priddy.

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