This article was originally published in ‘ASHA Leader’ and is reprinted with permission.
Editor’s Note: Kym Meyer is a Framingham native and has lived in Auburn with her husband and two children for many years.
Name: Kym Meyer, MS, CCC-A
Title: Director, Public School Partnerships, The Learning Center for the Deaf
Hometown: Framingham, Massachusetts
Kym Meyer racked up so many miles driving all over the state of Massachusetts that her colleagues began referring to her as “The Kym Show.” She was an audiologist on a mission to bring educational audiology services to any child in need in the public schools. If that meant driving several hours one-way across the state for a tiny school district, then so be it.
Her ultimate goal: Spread the word about how educational audiologists are needed to help these schools and make sure children who are deaf and hard of hearing (D/HH) receive appropriate services.
“In New England, educational audiology didn’t exist,” Meyer says. “I would get calls from the public schools saying, ‘We don’t know what we’re doing. We have a student who won’t wear the hearing aids and we don’t know what to do.’ So I would leave my day job and tell my boss I was going over to this local school and help them. And I loved it!”
Twenty-five years later, Meyer now has some help in this arena.
The Learning Center for the Deaf
When Meyer began her career at The Learning Center for the Deaf (TLC) in 1994, she was the educational audiologist for the students at the school. Founded in 1970, the 14-acre main campus of TLC enrolls children from preschool through grade 12 and up to 22 years old. TLC provides students who are D/HH with a bilingual-bicultural environment, instructing in both American Sign Language and English.
Before joining TLC, Meyer was a clinical audiologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary for two years. While Meyer enjoyed her initial work, something was missing. For her, the downside of clinical audiology was not knowing exactly how things turned out for students after they left her office.
“I would make recommendations and put them in a report, and they’d come back and nothing had been followed up on, and I didn’t really know what was happening in the classroom,” she says. “I wanted to make it to the follow-through piece. What happens after testing and how do we make a difference? It goes beyond the assessment piece, which for the kids means wearing the technology and using it in the schools.”
Meyer knew she wanted to make the leap to educational audiology, especially when she saw the need for the profession growing. After starting her position at TLC, the school began receiving calls from public schools all over the state with questions about how best to support students who are D/HH. At the time, Meyer was supervising a department full-time at TLC, but felt the urge to help these school districts.
She created a business plan for how she could help the public schools and fill a community need—and pitched it to her administrator. “The kids at our school are really being served well,” she explained. “I feel like we’re supposed to be serving the kids who are not here.”
Meyer’s supervisor green-lighted her plan, giving her two years to figure out how her budget and salary would work. Meyer did that in one year.
The first year Meyer took up this educational audiology mantle, TLC served about 12 school districts. This year, through its Public School Partnerships program that Meyer founded, TLC will provide services to more than 65 school districts—and more than 400 students—in Massachusetts.
And while Meyer began her new role “driving like crazy” all over the state by herself, the program now employs eight part-time audiologists, each serving their own locality.
Creating a need
Meyer constantly advocates for the profession of educational audiology and its place in the schools. “To this day I still hear school districts say, ‘We don’t have that service.’ Well, educational audiology is a related service under IDEA. The fact that they don’t have it doesn’t mean that they’re not supposed to provide it,” she says. (For more on the requirement under IDEA, see Meyer’s article on Wright’s Law.)
A major push for Meyer in the early 2000s was getting audiologists at area children’s hospitals to recommend educational audiology consults for patients. That led to calls from special education directors and parents asking her where they could get an educational audiology consult. Meyer was happy to step in, train clinical audiologists who were interested in educational audiology service delivery, and help families self-advocate for school services on their child’s behalf.
Closing the gaps
One of the biggest challenges, according to Meyer, is making sure school districts remember that she and her team can provide the necessary and required services for students. Because Meyer and the other TLC audiologists involved in the program are not employed by the school districts, it can be difficult to maintain consistent relationships.
“Districts that are further away forget about us a little more easily,” she says. “The town I live in is fantastic because they know I’m here, so I get called all the time. My staff who live in the towns that they consult in experience the same thing. It’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ if we’re not there and not a part of the fabric of the school district.” She is a firm believer that a “one and done” visit at the beginning of the school year (maybe another at the end) is not enough.
Ongoing support can take the form of observing in the classroom, providing accommodation information, or attending consultation meetings, typically with classroom teachers and administrators, and sometimes speech-language pathologists, school psychologists, special educators, and teachers of the deaf.
Meyer recognizes that teaching students who are D/HH can bring added challenges for teachers. To help, she seeks to ask the right questions: “Who else can we call in who is based in your building to help you? Who is on the team that has a good rapport with the child or is part of the IEP? Who’s the IEP team chair that I can bring in that can help me help you?”
Meyer cites a recent example that required a collaborative effort. An elementary school child was missing a lot of school. When she did attend, she was without her hearing aids. One school staff member knew the child had undergone a recent ear surgery, but was unaware what type. Another team member contacted the mother, and Meyer reached out to the child’s clinical audiologist.
Once the details came together, Meyer and the school could finally develop a plan for the student. “Everybody had a piece of information, and I was just the one to pull it all together,” she says. The student now has regular consultation from an educational audiologist and a teacher of the deaf to meet her needs and support her educational team around her hearing loss.
This puzzle-solving especially comes in handy when schools receive clinical audiology reports for students. “They get audiology reports and don’t know what any of that means,” Meyer says. “So I go through the reports to define what we need to be thinking about in terms of classroom setup and technology needs.”
As for promoting TLC’s services to public schools, Meyer doesn’t need to advertise. She gets the word out through advocacy and developing relationships with clients’ families, hospital-based pediatric audiologists, and community organizations.
What’s critical, she says, is that no child who is D/HH struggles in school because of their disability. “If a child with hearing loss is in the public schools, they should have an audiologist available to them in their school,” she says. “That is my unwavering belief.”