Coronavirus: Free preschool for deaf children provides help at home during pandemic

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- A groundbreaking East Bay program for deaf and hard of hearing children is stepping up to the challenge of teaching during a pandemic, providing a critical lifeline for families.

The Center for Early Intervention on Deafness (C.E.I.D.) is marking its 40th anniversary with a quick shift from its usual school and therapy programs in Berkeley to a range of online digital programs for kids and parents.

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Within just a few days of the Bay Area school shutdown because of COVID-19, the C.E.I.D. staff used Zoom to launch live circle times and one-on-one language therapy delivered directly into children's homes. The staff also created a range of educational videos for home use.

C.E.I.D. serves children five years old and under from all over the Bay Area with a program called Total Communication.

There are several approaches to teaching children who are deaf and hard of hearing. Some focus on sign language. Others use hearing aids and other technology to promote listening and speaking skills. C.E.I.D. embraces them all.

"The majority of deaf or hard of hearing children are born to hearing parents, so 90 percent of the parents are hearing and there is a huge learning curve" according to C.E.I.D. executive director Cindy Dickeson.

In addition to virtual instruction for children, C.E.I.D. is providing online sign language classes and support groups for parents.

"It has just been such a cohesive and strong community, and they've helped us in so many ways" said Laurie Estridge whose son 5 year old son Zachary is a C.E.I.D preschooler.

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"At C.E.I.D. we believe that every deaf and hard of hearing child can do and be anything they want to be and that's what we really instill in their parents, that with the right support and services, really the sky is the limit" Dickeson said.

"When C.E.I.D. closed (in March) it was initially very scary" said Christiana Inesi. Inesi is the mother of 3 year old Frank who loves going to school. "He had come so far with the resources that they have at C.E.I.D, and we were really nervous about whether or not those resources would be available to us when we weren't able to physically be at the school" Inesi said.

The family is now thrilled and relieved as C.E.I.D. programs continue online.

ABC7 News has been following C.E.I.D.'s amazing success since the early 1990's, watching C.E.I.D children who benefited from early intervention go on to reach their full potential in higher education and promising careers.

The program is free to families. About half the funding comes from school districts and California state regional centers, but the other half must be raised through private donations.

If you would like to find out more about C.E.I.D. programs or donate to help them continue - here is the link: https://www.ceid.org/

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