Chambana Mom to Know: Tina Childress

Tina Childress has lived in Champaign for over half her life as a result of coming here for college and considers herself officially a “townie” (she is originally from Skokie).  Tina works in the regular education and residential school settings as an educational audiologist where she does pediatric hearing evaluations and provides education and training related to hearing loss to parents and school staff.    As an audiologist, late-deafened adult and bilateral cochlear implant recipient who is fluent in sign language, she is able to use her multiple perspectives to teach others how to maximize their communication skills and cope with hearing loss.   Follow her blog at Tina and her husband Matt are parents of Maddy (age 10) and Mia (age 5).

Tina Childress Champaign Chambana Mom to Know speech hearing loss CASE

The Childress family at an Illini game. Photo provided

See why we think Tina Childress is a Chambana Mom to Know.

Q: May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. What does that mean to you?

It means another opportunity to remind people to protect their hearing and to get their hearing checked out if they have concerns. I mainly work with children and get lots of questions from parents about speech and language development and so I never hesitate to connect them with where they need to go for an assessment.

Adults tend to ask questions about that ringing sensation known as tinnitus (pronounced TIN-uh-tiss), how their hearing is affected by noise (e.g., usually sounds muffled) and what they can do to protect their hearing.

Because hearing loss is usually an “invisible” disability, unless they have hearing aids or cochlear implants, it is often misunderstood. People are often perceived as uninterested in a conversation or clueless. Over 36 million adults and an estimated 30 school children per 1,000 have some degree of hearing loss. Unfortunately, the demographics are showing more and more younger people experiencing hearing loss as a result of things like personal media players like iPods or their cell phones. More kids are using earbuds, wearing them for longer amounts of time and at excessive levels. This has contributed to a younger demographic of those with hearing loss.

Q: You lost your hearing before you had children. What impact, if any, has your hearing deficit had on your relationship with your children?

I just recently came to the full realization and acceptance that my children are CODAs (Child of a Deaf Adult)…I often don’t think of myself as “deaf” even though I have been for over 10 years. Part of that reason is because I can be at the extremes – do very well with my cochlear implants and function like a hearing person or be completely deaf when I take them off.

Matt and I have used sign language together since college and even if I hadn’t become deaf, we knew that we would use sign language with our kids. Their first words were signed around 9 months and they are essentially bilingual. It always amazes me how they code switch between my Deaf friends (use sign language with no voice) and my hearing friends (talk normally). Maddy appears to be the typical first child CODA in that she does the brunt of interpreting for me when we go out in public and I don’t hear/understand something. Mia, I’ve been told, is the typical second child CODA who insists that I either “talk!” or put on my cochlear implants (which she will put together and give to me if I don’t move fast enough). Stinker!

Neck hugs, kisses and tickle time is often interrupted by, “Hang on! My ear fell off!” but they just take it in stride. I *love* the fact that I can have a full conversation (translation: I’m reprimanding them) in public without uttering a word out loud. Body language + sign language = winning! My kids are great thespians, too, with all of the practice with facial expressions and gesturing that they have done over the years.

Yes, the girls will do as all children do and mutter under their breath as they walk away. Matt is really good at putting the kibosh on that and reminding them it’s uber-rude to do that to mommy-who-can’t-hear-you. We definitely use a hybrid of spoken language and sign language in our home.

Q: You worked as a hearing professional before you lost your hearing. How did the loss affect you and how you work with patients/clients?

I have had a few students over the years who have known me as hearing, then hard of hearing, then deaf, then more hard of hearing again when I got my cochlear implants. It’s been really cool to be a role model for them and show them that it’s OKAY to have hearing loss and to advocate for yourself. They realize that I “get it” and we’ve had some really deep conversations about what it’s like to have hearing loss and how to compensate. They also think it’s neat when we swap parts when I’m troubleshooting their devices.

Parents appreciate my perspective in that I can tell them things that they might take for granted – like listening to a teacher and taking notes at the same time. This is almost impossible to do because the students need to get lipreading cues from the teacher and it’s hard to look up and then look down to write. I also stress how important it is to face their children or go to a quieter place when they’re somewhere that is really noisy.

For parents of cochlear implanted children, they often ask, “So, what does it SOUND like?” I tell them that it sounds “normal”….even though the sounds are being transmitted via electrical impulses to our hearing nerve, our brain does most of the work to make sense out of these signals. My mom still sounds like my mom and my sister sounds like my sister.

When I work with adults, I think my strength is taking the complex jargon of audiology and translating it into examples and terms that they can understand. One of my favorite topics is assistive listening devices and I’ve mentored dozens of people in how to use this type of technology to their advantage. Matt is really great at talking to hearing spouses and we’ve had the awesome opportunity to talk at various local and national conferences about being a deaf/hearing couple.

Q: What do we as parents need to know about hearing loss/deficits in children?

The symptoms of hearing loss can manifest themselves in ways that look like other problems, like ADD, a learning disability or behavior disorders. A child that looks like they’re not paying attention may not be because they’re so overwhelmed with not understanding that they just check out (I’ve been there!). That child that’s acting out and is being defiant may be doing so because they’re not hearing the contextual cues that are appropriate for a certain situation. That student that talks loudly and dominates conversations may be doing so because at least they know what’s being talked about.

Kids who are at risk for hearing problems can be those who have allergies, frequent fluid or ear infections, are around a lot of second-hand smoke and issues like a family history of hearing loss or a syndrome with associated hearing loss.

Too often, I’ve had kids come in for a hearing test only to find out that they have an ear infection that a parent didn’t know about. Usually when doctors at a place like convenient care check out a kid with their otoscope (ear light), they only look for a second but anything like a small ear canal or wax might block full access to see the eardrum. We do an additional test which will actually check for eardrum movement and thus indicate if there is fluid or not. That information coupled with a hearing test will tell us if a child is getting access to speech information or not

My mantra has and always will be: When in doubt, rule it out! I work at CASE Audiology in Champaign and we provide FREE hearing testing and consultation to all children (birth through graduation from high school) who live in Champaign and Ford Counties. If you click here, you’ll see a checklist of behaviors to look out for. If you have a concern, please give us a call and set up an appointment!

Q: Who are your parenting role models and why?

I have to say that I’ve probably learned the most about parenting and (improving) my parenting style from my husband, Matt. He is almost always the calm and patient one and he’s definitely tempered the yell-er in me. Luckily, he doesn’t tie my hands together when I go off in sign language. Ha! He also understands my communication needs and he’s been great in making sure the girls understand my needs.

Q: How do you identify yourself in terms of your hearing?

People sometimes ask me, “Are you deaf?”, “Are you hard of hearing?”, “Are you hearing?” and my answer is, “Yes!” or “It depends!” When I’m asleep and my cochlear implants are on my dresser, I’m deaf. When I’m with my Deaf friends using sign language, I’m Deaf. When I’m a difficult listening situation, I’m hard of hearing. When you see me talking on my cell phone, I’m hearing. I am all of these.

My hubby and girls? I call them “hard of listening”.

We are looking for Chambana Dads to Know for the month of June, in honor of Father’s Day. Nominate one today! 

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  1. Wonderful article about a really neat lady….and she’s my neighbor!

  2. Tanya Simpson says:

    Fantastic article Tina! We love you and will always hold you responsible for being the catalyst for us as parents getting Piper where she is today!!

  3. Really interesting Q&A … Tina brought up so many aspects of hearing loss that I had never thought about. She has a great sense of humor about her relationship with her kids, too. Thanks for sharing!