American essayist, lecturer and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The hearing ear is always found close to the speaking tongue.” Yes, the two are forever joined. But sometimes a child cannot hear sufficiently and therefore cannot speak clearly. That’s where a remarkable place in Lexington works diligently to correct those issues.
The Lexington Hearing & Speech Center (LHSC) provides diagnostic, therapeutic and educational services to people, mostly children, who have hearing, speech and language impairments. Its goal is for kids to leave the center with the language skills, independence and confidence to become active participants in their communities.
“We started in 1960 as the Lexington Deaf Oral School. A group of local parents wanted an option for their children with hearing loss to learn how to listen and talk,” said Marcey Ansley, the center’s executive director.
LHSC pushed forward through the dedication and fundraising skills of local architect and engineer Jimmy Frankel and his wife, Edie – both of whom suffered hearing loss. After operating for decades in several houses on Ashland Avenue, the center moved last year to the much-larger former Ewan Elementary School on Henry Clay Boulevard.
“Today, we have an early learning center and classrooms for children ages six weeks through kindergarten. They are blended with children with hearing loss and speech and language delays,” Ansley said.
One of those children, Makenzie Tomlinson, 6, of Lexington, recently “graduated” from the hearing and speech center. Receiving services since she was six months old, today she is a first grader in what she calls “big school,” a typical Fayette County classroom.
However, the journey had many bumps.
Makenzie was born with profound to severe hearing loss. Her doctors delivered the bad news to her parents, Brian and Faith Tomlinson. “They didn’t know how to talk to us about it. There was a lot of gloom and doom. They said we should expect to have a deaf child,” said Brian, who serves on the school’s board of directors.
The family’s pediatrician suggested they stop seeing a specialist and instead try LHSC and its communication-rich environment. “When we went there, they said: ‘Don’t worry. She’s going to speak. We’ll help her communicate with her hearing peers.’ That was hard for us to believe, at first,” Brian said.
After six months with hearing aids, Makenzie’s improvement was impressive. But she eventually reached a plateau. The center suggested bilateral cochlear implants, surgically implanted electronic devices that provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.
The surgeries were successfully performed a year apart at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “After Makenzie had the implants it was like the light turned on,” Brian said. “She really picked up on speech and became engaged in things at the center because she received constant communication enrichment.”
Fayette County Public Schools has determined Mackenzie no longer qualifies for any special services, a remarkable achievement. “I loved the Lexington Hearing & Speech Center. I can hear and talk. I’m excited about my new school,” said Makenzie, in answer to a reporter’s question.
The Tomlinsons second child – a son named Ian, 2 – was born with mild hearing loss and utilizes light-level hearing aids to help create speech. When Ian gets older, he probably won’t need them unless he chooses to, thanks to the services at LHSC.
As the center’s director, Ansley isn’t just an administrator functioning apart from the trials of the center’s hearing impaired children. Her son has hearing loss and began coming to the center at two months of age.
“The speech pathologist he had before worried about his development and cognitive abilities,” Ansley said. “Then we came here and it was a different tune. There’s always hope here. No matter what your child’s communication or hearing delay, they’ll not be defined by that as they get older.”
Ansley’s son is now a straight-A middle school student. Last summer, he played basketball and all season his coach never realized the boy wore hearing aids.
Ansley and Tomlinson want more people to know about Lexington Hearing & Speech Center so children will benefit. “We’re known as the best kept secret in Kentucky and don’t need to be. Families out there with speech and language needs or who have questions should know we’re here for them,” Ansley concluded.
A LHSC fundraiser, Cocktails and Casino, is scheduled for Nov. 10. “We’re turning our school into an upscale Vegas-style cocktail party with blackjack tables and casino-style gambling, for fun,” Ansley said. “We’ll have a separate poker tournament with an entry fee. People have an opportunity to win great prizes.”
For more information on the school or the November fundraiser, visit www.lhscky.org.