Jane Madell, PhD, is an internationally recognized expert in pediatric hearing loss and spoken language. She has been on the front lines of advancing efforts in pediatric audiology and speech-language pathology for over 45 years. A few years ago, while giving a workshop she ran across the mother of a former patient, who happened to be the award-winning filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky. The serendipitous encounter resulted in The Listening Project, a documentary film about 15 deaf adults who were former pediatric patients of Dr. Madell. As an associate editor of the Academy’s publications, Audiology Today and www.audiology.org, I spoke with Dr. Madell to learn more about the film.
Academy: What was your inspiration for this film?
Madell: I have been a pediatric audiologist for about 50 years, when I started we didn’t have newborn hearing screening, we didn’t have cochlear implants, and we didn’t even have very good hearing aids. We did the best we could with what we had in those early years.
I am an audiologist, speech-language pathologist, and auditory-verbal therapist, so I wore a lot of hats and formed close relationships to these kids and their families. A few years ago, I started thinking it would be nice to reach out to these kids to find out the advice they would have for families of newly identified children.
Identification of hearing loss in pediatric populations can be very difficult for families. For the most part, parents of children identified with hearing loss have limited knowledge of hearing loss and the options that exist prior to the diagnosis. Usually, when people think of hearing loss they think of adults with hearing aids that whistle or people who use sign language. Most parents don’t know that listening and spoken language is a possibility, despite the fact that 85 percent of children with hearing loss are mainstreamed.
Irene Taylor Brodsky is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentary film maker. She is also a mom with a child with a hearing loss. She and her husband brought their son to me to determine cochlear implant candidacy. He did get the implant and is very successful. I was in Oregon some time later doing a workshop and Irene and her husband attended. Afterward, Irene and I got to talking about this idea of interviewing some of my former patients, which I was going to do with a pencil and paper, but now I am sitting here with a filmmaker…she said “let’s just do it.”
We looked into some funding and were able to get a grant from Oberkotter Foundation. Irene flew to New York with a camera crew and we interviewed 15 young people that I have known since they were very young.
Academy: What kind of questions did you ask?
Madell: I wanted to know how did they feel about growing up with a hearing loss, what issues they faced, how did they deal with social situations, how they felt about cochlear implants (11 of the 15 received cochlear implants, most received as teenagers or young adults), what would they do differently, questions about dating, social relationships, and what would they do if they had a child with hearing loss, and what advice they would give to parents of newly identified children? They told some very funny stories in the film, as well as some difficult ones.
Academy: What is your vision for this film?
Madell: I think that families of newly identified children do not understand what is possible for their children with hearing loss. Parents that have watched the film have consistently stated “if I had seen this film when my baby was identified my journey would have been much easier.”
I think this could be a resource for audiologists to refer families to view and help give them hope. I would love for it to be shown in the waiting rooms of hearing and speech clinics. Also, included with the film disc is a short version that can be shown in the classroom of children with hearing loss. This can help explain hearing loss and help young people understand what it is like for their classmates that have hearing loss. Some schools have used it to help teach empathy. The schools that have used it have reported positive outcomes.
Academy: Where do you go from here?
Madell: Our next step is to this film out in a very public way. We hope that some television network will become interested and show it. Some viewers have suggested that we make additional films in which we follow the young people in the movie and see how they are doing at work and in their daily lives, that we interview young people implanted at even younger ages who had good auditory access much younger than the ones in this film. Parents of some of the people in the film have suggested that we add parent interviews. As much as I would love to do that, finding the funding will be difficult.
Academy: How can audiologists and families access the film?
Madell: The website is www.thelisteningprojectfilm.org. At this site you can view the trailer and purchase the film, which includes the short version.
Academy: Thank you for your time and this excellent resource.
Madell: Thank you very much.
Christopher Spankovich, AuD, PhD, MPH, is an Academy associate editor for Audiology Today and www.audiology.org.
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