IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Inside CU's faculty profile series
Our faculty are a source of great pride and bring a world of expertise, experimentation and excellence to our students and our community. Meet Christine Yoshinaga-Itano, professor in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences (SLHS).
Professor Yoshinaga-Itano is a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing and an audiologist. She has conducted research in the areas of language, speech and social-emotional development of deaf and hard-of-hearing infants and children for over 30 years. She was the first to demonstrate that when infants with hearing loss are identified in the first few months of life and provided with appropriate intervention services, 80 percent are able to maintain age-appropriate language development and intelligible speech in the first five years of life. As a result, universal newborn hearing screening programs were implemented in all 50 states and in many countries throughout the world, including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, Poland and Brazil.
What drew you to your field of expertise, and keeps you passionate about your work?
When I was young I had a deep love of music, foreign languages, the development and behavior of infants and children, and teaching. I did not know how to combine all of these diverse interests into a single profession, but I was lucky to find the field of deafness and hearing loss. The field of deafness introduced me to a world of great diversity: individuals who communicated exclusively through a visual language, children and adults with all of the capabilities and potential to achieve the same things as people who hear, but who had fewer opportunities because of significant delays in language and reading and individuals with auditory differences that could be supported by technological advances in amplification. As I studied about the field and learned that the cognitive/intellectual potential of a child who was deaf or hard of hearing did little to predict language outcomes, I was intrigued by the interactions of cognition, neurology, the sensory system (access to language through either the auditory or visual modalities), language, speech, auditory, social emotional and cognitive development. The fact that the issues were such complex systems and that impact on any part of the system could result in significant disequilibrium with serious ramifications has been intriguing to me since I began to work in this field in the early 1970s. Now, almost 40 years later, I feel privileged to have had a major role in altering the future and course of development for the future generations of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. An additional benefit for new parents, almost 4 million each year, is that they leave the hospital knowing that their infants can hear their voices when they tell them that they love them. Those whose families are referred for additional testing learn quickly, if their infants are diagnosed with congenital hearing loss, that with appropriate and immediate early intervention services, their infants have a 75% probability of developing intelligible speech by five years of age and an 80% probability of developing language and communication skills within the normal range if their child’s cognitive abilities are within the normal range. Past generations of late-identified children with hearing loss (after six months of age) had only a 20 to 35% probability of developing intelligible speech and age-appropriate language skills.
What do you most enjoy and what is the most challenging aspect of your profession?
I enjoy interactions with individuals of all age levels who are deaf or hard of hearing, with my greatest joys working with infants/toddlers and their families. I am constantly challenged by the questions of students and of working with professionals who bring their real life problems that we can work to solve in partnership with one another. When I began my professional career, I focused on individuals and the impact my work could have on them and their families. Through the years, I added the focus of health and educational systems development. I found that individuals can significantly impact the development of viable and lasting systems by engaging the grassroots individuals (families and professionals) to become convinced in the goal and to work passionately for change, and by interacting and responding to the needs of the individuals who have the power to change and create new systems, administrators and politicians. I enjoy seeing the results of my research especially when it has a lasting impact upon the legislation in our country and in countries throughout the world and the passion and dedication of thousands of individuals working to create better social, health and educational systems that are efficacious. Because of advances in technology and legislation to mandate universal hearing screening programs throughout the United States, the identification of hearing loss in the newborn period has spawned countless research programs in many different areas of study such as neuroscience, amplification technology, cognitive science, and educational interventions. My field has never been as exciting as it is today. In field I learn something new every day and I develop questions that had little potential of being answered in past decades, but have tremendous potential of being answered today.
What are your favorite interests and activities apart from your work?
Apart from my work at the university, I love singing in a choir, playing piano, learning foreign languages and running. Part of my work at the university has been to travel to countries all over the world assisting them in the development of programs to identify children with hearing loss and provide them with appropriate intervention services. I have great passion for the work I have been able to do with other countries, particularly developing countries, and helping them develop their health and educational services to better serve infants and children with hearing loss and their families. Though my academic background was not public policy in the area disabilities, the research that I have conducted at the University of Colorado has opened opportunities consulting with public and private agencies throughout the world. I found an academic/scholarly area that fulfills my need for intellectual curiosity, provides me an opportunity to work with students and individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families, and professional and political entities that create and enact policies and standards for the delivery of health and educational services to deaf and hard-of-hearing children and adults.
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