School Bells for Newborns This educational audiologist sees the youngest of preschoolers—those just days old—in his school office. In the Limelight
In the Limelight  |   May 01, 2014
School Bells for Newborns
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Hearing Disorders / Special Populations / Early Identification & Intervention / School-Based Settings / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   May 01, 2014
School Bells for Newborns
The ASHA Leader, May 2014, Vol. 19, 20-21. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.19052014.20
The ASHA Leader, May 2014, Vol. 19, 20-21. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.19052014.20
Name: Kevin Still
Position: Pediatric audiologist, Tucker-Maxon Oral School, Portland, Ore.
Hometown: Atlanta

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School-based audiologist Kevin Still, here with his wife and daughter, offers newborn hearing screenings to parents who choose home births.
About a third of students at Tucker-Maxon Oral School, in Portland, Ore., have hearing loss. Yet children talk to each other in the classrooms, call to one another in the halls and shout happily on the playground.
The children all know Kevin Still, Tucker-Maxon’s sole audiologist. Like them, Still is never, well, still. He spends a good part of every morning troubleshooting and fixing glitchy hearing aids, cochlear implants and FM systems. He also programs (and re-programs) devices, screens students, attends individualized education program meetings and meets with staff members about students.
Recently, Still has expanded his services to a new clientele: He gives free hearing screenings to home-birthed newborns right in his school office, which doubles as a private practice clinic. There, Still also fits in appointments from alumni and community members. He sees patients of all ages, from a few weeks old through 80-somethings. (Still also answers his own phone, books appointments and handles paperwork.)
Basing newborn screening at Tucker-Maxon makes sense, says Still. The school has an early intervention program for newborns up to age 3. Classes span pre-K to fifth grade, and feature collaborative classrooms, where children with and without hearing loss learn alongside one another. And all families are introduced to a local, tight-knit school for children with and without hearing impairments.
Still saw a need to add newborn screening to the mix because parents who choose home births have limited options to fulfill Oregon’s requirement that every newborn be screened. (Because two to three of every 1,000 babies are born with a hearing impairment, most states now require newborn screenings for early detection.)
The inspiration for the program hit him when he and his wife began attending childbirth classes. “About half the people in our class were planning on a home birth,” he says. “I made a statement about hearing screening, and nobody knew what I was talking about.
“The type of person who gives birth at home will likely not drag an otherwise healthy 2-week-old baby to a hospital for a hearing screening,” he notes. “I wanted to create an option that is close to home and in a family-friendly setting.”
As a child, Still had no experience with deafness, but was pretty sure he wanted to be a scientist after volunteering in a lab in which “the scientists were really cool.” On a quest for such coolness, Still majored in anthropology at Harvard University.
His first experience with children with hearing loss was after Harvard, when he worked at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass., collecting data and doing outreach. He also played in several bands in the Boston area, as drummer and lead singer, while cultivating a dream: to move to Portland, Ore., and pursue a music career.
In Portland, Still landed a job at the Child Development and Rehabilitation Center at Oregon Health Sciences University. After five years of playing music gigs and working on research projects, Still was ready to move out from behind a computer. When he spoke to a mentor about a speech-language pathology career, she suggested audiology might be a better fit, based on Still’s interests in data, technology and the “science of sound.” Still was also drawn to audiology by a desire to help others.
“Every blessing in my life—my wife, my job, my friends, my success—is because of my ability to communicate,” Still says. “That’s why any of us has what we have. We know how to talk to people, communicate our needs. We need to work hard so every child has that opportunity.”
There were no audiology programs in Oregon, so Still headed across the country again, enrolling at the University of Florida, Gainesville. His fourth-year externship found him back at OHSU, working with cochlear implants.
In the fall of 2012, he secured the audiologist position at Tucker-Maxon, where he’s continued building out his career by founding the newborn screening program. After clearing the idea with the school, Still secured a grant to cover the cost of the screening equipment. He trained and was certified as a screener, started outreach and has started to book screenings. (He’s also become a father—daughter Judy was born in January.)
Newborn screenings can identify problems early. But unexpected results can be difficult for parents to accept. Talking with parents—and helping them grapple with a diagnosis they may not understand and didn’t expect—is the most challenging part of Still’s job, he says. It’s also the most rewarding.
“When I go home and feel like I’ve done a great job, it’s because I’ve gotten through to a parent,” he says. “Taking parents from a place of fear and grief, to making a decision about a technology and showing them how to use it and how it fits into their family plans … then seeing those same parents later using the device like a pro and celebrating their child’s achievements—that’s the best part.”
1 Comment
May 7, 2014
Jennifer Diemart
Great job.
Very nice article and great work, Kevin!
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