King Saud University sponsored the Middle East’s first Auditory Verbal Therapy Seminar late last June and based on the comments of seminar director Miss Hanan Alzahrani, the panelists, and participants, the event could become a regular on the KSU calendar.
The five-day event, sponsored by the Prince Sultan Research Chair for Hearing Disabilities and Implantable Devices (RCHD), attracted approximately 70 participants who expressed more than a 90 percent approval rating in a survey conducted at the conclusion of the conference which according to Miss Alzahrani was the result of a year of planning. Responses to the program included “fantastic and enriching,” “amazing,” “extremely organized,” and a “fantastic and terrific learning experience in which audience participation was encouraged.”
Miss Alzahrani attributed much of the success to the seminar’s American panel led by Dr. Ellen Rhoades, an internationally-acclaimed certified therapist with 40 years of experience in AVT, along with Sally Katsaggelos, another certified AVT therapist, and Dr. Kerry Roesch, director of North American sales for a company that provides hearing devices.
“Dr. Rhoades, Miss Katsaggelos and Dr. Roesch provided outstanding lectures about AV practicum and utilized case-based information that enhanced the learning process for the participants during panel discussions,” Dr. Alzahrani said. “They also informed the conference members of new techniques and knowledge needed by audiologists, speech pathologists and those who teach the deaf.”
Dr. Rhoades has spent more than 40 years in the AV field which deals with the world’s No. 1 disability, one which the World Health Organization estimates has an impact on a range of 300 to 600 million profoundly deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals. The WHO predicts that that number to reach 900 million by 2025. She and Katsaggelos are among only 500 certified auditory-verbal therapists world-wide.
She has been a featured speaker at countless conferences internationally throughout her career and welcomed the invitation to participate in the Middle East’s first AVT conference, as well as visit Saudi Arabia. She was concerned about her ability to enlist additional panelists because of the major unrest throughout the region, but managed to do so and wound up enjoying an extremely productive and gratifying experience.
“The Saudis were incredibly kind, generous and friendly toward us each and every day,” she said, “and it was fantastic to have such an interactive audience. They asked us many questions and continually showed interest in what we shared with them.
“When invited to return, I relied in the affirmative without any hesitation, whatsoever. Indeed, I look forward to returning to Saudi Arabia and sharing further knowledge, as well as therapy toys with my new friends.”
Dr. Rhoades said that as a result of the seminar, the participants learned about evidence-based strategies, as well as observing varied AV therapy sessions. She added that the participants expressed a genuine appreciation for auditory-verbal intervention for families and their children with hearing loss, regardless of whether hearing aids or cochlear implants are used.
“They seemed quite enthusiastic about implementing AV strategies when they return to their respective practices,” Dr. Rhoades said. “I believe our initial mission was accomplished and it is my hope that – upon my return to Saudi Arabia – opportunities to interact with families and their children will strengthen their effective use of intervention strategies.”
Her commitment was good news to KSU, one of the region’s pre-eminent universities and an institution that has adopted an ambitious medical program. In fact, early this year KSU medical staff completed a successful cochlear implant, a procedure that is extremely important to Dr. Rhoades who received an implant in the mid-1980s. She is an enthusiastic proponent of the cochlear process, but knows all implants must be complemented by members of the AV field.
“Any good surgeon can implant a cochlear implant,” she explained, “but that’s just one phase. You need a good audiologist to map the implant’s speech processor. No matter how well the processor is mapped, when you are dealing with children who were deaf before they were implanted, they were once deaf and their brains are wired in a certain way. The brains need to become rewired so they become auditory brains.
“Their auditory neurons have become visual neurons and it takes a skilled AV practitioner to implement an effective intervention program so the children can learn to listen and communicate in their native language.”
According to Miss Alzahrani, 40 participants took a 30-hour certification exam during the seminar, but one exam a completely certified AV practitioner doesn’t make in what Dr. Rhoades emphasized involves a long and arduous process. She conceded that more than twice the number of certified AV therapists is needed to meet world-wide demands, but certification is not the sole purpose of seminars.