A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Hear! Hear!

          (Above: Nan and one of her friends at CEID)

Happy birthday to a very special dog named Nan, who will celebrate her third birthday on November 17.
Actually, she won't be three until November 30, but she's going to celebrate early so all her little buddies, age 3-5, at the Center for the Early Intervention on Deafness in Berkeley can party with her. (They'll be off for Thanksgiving break.) The toddlers, who are deaf or hearing impaired, will wear dog-ear party hats, sing happy birthday, and share a special treat.
How they love Nan! She helps them complete puzzles. She teaches them different body parts, from her tail to the tip of her nose. ("Touch Nan's nose," "touch Nan's paw," "put the blanket over Nan," "put the blanket under Nan," etc.)
She helps them select words during speech therapy. She pulls them in the play yard cart.
Best of all, she never judges them. She always greets them with a happy face and a wagging tail. (That's a Lab/golden retriever mix for you.)
Of course, what she's really teaching them is how to make it in a hearing world. At the same time her human partner, CEID executive director Cindy Dickerson, is signing to the little tykes, she's also enunciating the words, to get them subliminally used to reading lips.
CEID was founded in 1980 by Dickerson's predecessor, Jill Ellis, who based it on one simple insight: The first five years of life are the formative years, in every sense of the word.
Most kids won't start learning to read until they're five or six, so they have to get those crucial informational building blocks through their ears.
But what if you're deaf? While all the other kids are soaking up all that data and meta-programming their own brains, you're missing out. You'll be playing catch-up for the rest of your life.
Ergo, it's essential to indentify hearing loss in babies at the earliest possible moment and start dealing with it right away, whether through sign language, lip reading, fitting them with hearing aids or cochlear implants (I saw one little girl whose implants were shocking pink) or a combination.
But in the meantime, you have to find another way to get that crucial information about the world into their little brains.
That's where Nan comes in.
And she's only one of many, many educational and therapeutic programs at CEID that I don't have space to tell you about. You can find out about the others at CEID's website, ceid.org. That's also where you can make a donation, or you can mail a check to 1035 Grayson St., Berkeley 94710.
Believe me, there's no way I can describe how much good CEID does, or how moving it is to watch these adorable little kids, who otherwise might be condemned to be always on the outside looking in, getting empowered more and more each day and gleefully soaking up the world, like any little kid should.
All praise to Jill Ellis, who retired as CEID's executive director a couple of months ago; to Cindy Dickerson, her worthy successor; their staff and volunteers; and everyone who donates to this wonderful organization.
And to Nan, of course. Her fame has spread beyond CEID, and she now has her own business card, Facebook page (nanceidfacilitydog) and Twitter account (nan@nanceid).