Lean On Me

This early identification audiologist ensures that parents have the support they need to handle their new normal

When parents discover their child has a communications disorder, they’re understandably afraid. They worry about treatment and wonder what it will mean for their child’s future. Pediatric audiologist Christine Cook is there to hold their hand and support them every step of the way.

Christine, the supervisor of Nemours Children’s Specialty Care’s audiology department in Jacksonville, Florida, has walked through each stage of diagnosis with families, from early identification and testing to beginning treatment and eventually graduating from high school.

When the hearing loss is confirmed, says Christine, oftentimes parents are overwhelmed with the diagnosis. There is a grieving process for most and sometimes tears.

“It is difficult not to be emotional with the families at that moment,” she says. But one of the most important things Christine does is she tells families that everything is going to be okay. And that she, as their audiologist, and other caregivers will be there to help guide them through treatment options and therapy, helping them to put their children on a healthy, happy path.

Building that trust and a strong relationship with families is key.

Because some of the families that are seen through Nemours Jacksonville are low income and can’t always afford treatment services, she helps ensure they have adequate support at their local schools.

When children in Christine’s county come to the care facility for the first time and a potential communication disorder is identified, their school is generally notified. This ensures the local schools Nemours works with are well equipped to serve students with these types of disabilities. It’s something Christine recognizes as being very unique to their area but has been incredibly helpful, especially to parents who can’t afford or don’t understand treatment.

“Follow up with some families can be challenging,” Christine says. So, along with treatment services, her audiology department tries to put those families in contact with their school’s social workers to make sure their child gets exactly what they need on a day-to-day basis.

And it’s her training as an ASHA-certified audiologist and her more than 25 years of experience that has allowed her to be this source of comfort and guidance for her patients’ families. Spending countless hours with patients in clinical settings has helped her better understand a family’s needs when new information arises and how to help them take the next steps. Though not every case is that simple.

“We encourage families to be involved as much as possible, but it doesn’t always work out,” Christine says. “Unfortunately in the long run, these children with hearing loss and communication disabilities end up struggling both academically and socially.”

Despite these pitfalls and moments of frustration, when a child does receive the right support from treatment to their school environment, Christine has seen many of her patients struggle less in school and ultimately succeed.

“When you see the impact you’ve made on [these kids’] lives,” she says, “it’s the most rewarding experience. We [audiologists], along with the entire team of providers, played an integral part in that child’s success.”