CSD Students Help Special Olympians Hear

June 9, 2009

Several Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) students recently volunteered at the Special Olympics, giving free hearing screenings to athletes and their families. This outreach activity, known as Healthy Hearings, is a part of the Healthy Athletes program, which was created to provide better health diagnoses to Special Olympics athletes and their families.

The free screenings took place in Findlay Commons in East Halls, where the majority of the Special Olympics events took place, and also where the athletes stayed. The students—five from Penn State, along with nine from California University of Pennsylvania and Bloomsburg University—looked for a range of common hearing disorders including ear infections, otoacoustic emissions (sounds coming from the inner ear), and hearing loss. Several professionals from Geisinger Medical Center, Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Bloomsburg University, and Penn State (Judy Creuz, instructor in communication sciences and disorders) supervised and helped train the students.

Typically, about 10 percent of the athletes—or 200 people—receive free screenings each year, said Ralph Belsterling, Au.D., Special Olympics Pennsylvania Healthy Hearing clinical director. This year, that number rose to 250.

Nearly 21 percent of those who are screened are identified as needing some sort of intervention. Their parents or coaches are notified, and they are given referrals for follow-up appointments with their local audiologist, family physician, or ear, nose, and throat doctor. Athletes leave the screenings with a hearing report card and free gifts ranging from playing cards and markers to Slinkies and foam ear replicas.

“This is a wonderful experience,” said Belsterling. “Students gain knowledge working with individuals with intellectual disabilities, learn protocols used when diagnosing hearing disorders, and they learn how to use equipment. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, a nice learning experience, and, overall, a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

Belsterling says he has a “special place in his heart” for people with intellectual disabilities; he has a sister with Down syndrome. Kristin Eby, one of the Penn State students involved in the screenings this year, shares that desire to help people with intellectual disabilities. Her older brother has Down syndrome, and she first became involved with the Special Olympics years ago as a fan.

“I’ve always wanted to get involved with the Special Olympics since I’ve been at Penn State,” said Alexandra Hale, a senior CSD student. “It wasn’t until I took Judy Creuz’s audiology class [CSD 230: Introduction to Audiology] that I realized I could help out like this.” This was Hale’s first experience with performing hearing screenings—a learning experience, but a helpful one, as she knows she wants to work with people with intellectual disabilities in her career.

Some students had previous experience with hearing screenings, but the helping at the Special Olympics proved to be a very rewarding experience. “I met so many individuals from all different backgrounds,” said Kaitlin Kunkle. “That was really the most rewarding part of this.”

Read more about the Healthy Athletes program or the Special Olympics of Pennsylvania.

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Editors: For additional information, please contact the College of Health and Human Development Office of College Relations at 814-865-3831 or healthhd@psu.edu.