Donald Goldberg and Former Students Bring Sound to Children Who are Hearing Impaired
Dual role at The College of Wooster and the Cleveland Clinic enable them to identify candidates for cochlear implants
WOOSTER, Ohio — Mason Henoch’s parents knew something was wrong just before his first birthday, but neither realized how serious it was until a team of experts at The Cleveland Clinic determined that the toddler was months behind in his ability to communicate because of severe-to-profound hearing loss in both ears.
Among the first to identify the severity of the problem was Donald Goldberg, professor of communication at The College of Wooster and a certified auditory-verbal therapist, who serves as a consultant to the Cleveland Clinic. He began working regularly with Mason this past summer and quickly noted limited response to auditory cues. “He wasn’t hearing much,” said Goldberg in a Cleveland Clinic-produced video. ”That became pretty obvious in the first few weeks and months of seeing him.”
Goldberg says his therapy sessions might look like “play sessions” to an outsider, but the process involves much more than fun and games. The objective is to evaluate the child’s listening, speech, and language while playing with toys, noisemakers, and other assorted items in an effort to determine to what degree the hearing is affected. “There is no question that Mason was behind,” said Goldberg, who also serves as president of the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a nonprofit organization that focuses on childhood hearing loss and the importance of early diagnosis and intervention. “It was clear that his hearing aids were not sufficient. He had very minimal auditory responses.”
That made Mason an ideal candidate for cochlear implants — surgically inserted devices designed to improve hearing. The bilateral simultaneous surgery took place last August at the Cleveland Clinic, where electrodes were placed in his inner ear. Goldberg was there for the entire six-hour procedure. “When I saw the surgeon put in the electrode ray, I actually had chills up my arms, thinking, ‘that’s going to bring (him) access to sound,’” he said.
Since the surgery, Mason, whose maternal grandparents (Nan and Bruce Browne) are Wooster graduates, has continued to meet periodically with Goldberg and another professional with ties to The College of Wooster — Goldberg’s former student, Rachel Bibler Vovos, a 2004 Wooster graduate and a clinical audiologist at the Cleveland Clinic. “Rachel did much of the early testing before the surgery,” said Goldberg. “I am very proud of her. It has been so rewarding to see her progress from an undergraduate to a professional colleague.”
Goldberg and Bibler Vovos will continue to work with Mason to ensure that his implants are working properly. “In audiology, we test to see if the individual’s hearing is at an adequate level for detecting speech and environmental sound,” she said. “In Mason’s case, we check the implants separately and together to make sure we are not over- or under-stimulating him, and so that he can begin to develop spoken language.”
Mason’s story is one of many that warms Goldberg’s heart, not only because of the opportunity to bring sound into the lives of someone who is hearing impaired, but also because of the involvement of Bibler Vovos and other former Wooster students in the profession. Nine CSD (communication science and disorders) graduates have become doctors of audiology (Au.D.), and one former student has become a certified auditory-verbal therapist — Katie Montague, a 1999 alumnus who works as a listening and spoken language specialist in Shaker Heights.
And the trend continues. Three Wooster seniors and two juniors have dedicated their Independent Study projects to topics related to cochlear implants this year, and Goldberg and his colleagues at Wooster continue to provide training for other students interested in becoming audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and teachers of the deaf.
Bibler Vovos chose Wooster because of its reputation for preparing students for a career in clinical audiology, but having the opportunity to work with Goldberg was an unexpected bonus. “I knew that this is what I wanted to do from the time I was in high school when I babysat a child with hearing loss,” she said. “What I did not realize was how much of an advantage it would be to work with Dr. Goldberg. He has been a great mentor, and I am thankful that I can still work with someone that I know and trust.”
Goldberg knows that his legacy will be defined by the impact he has had on his students and his work at the College’s Freedlander Speech and Hearing Clinic. “There are many children who are learning to listen and develop spoken language skills because of these Wooster graduates,” he said. “Nothing is better than learning in the classroom and then changing the outcomes for very young deaf children.”
And that includes Mason, who, according to Goldberg, is going to have a whole new life. “He is making rapid progress, and I believe he will catch up and even surpass his peers,” said Goldberg. “He has become somewhat of a ‘listening machine.’ He is giving us a clear indication of what he hears, and his speech and language development are now on schedule, if not slightly ahead. We are very encouraged by his rapid response and his outlook for the future.”
Questions about hearing loss and cochlear implants can be directed to the Freedlander Speech and Hearing Clinic (330-263-2541).