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John Tracy Clinic: 60 Years Later

John Tracy Clinic: 60 Years Later
John Tracy Clinic
April 21, 2003

John Tracy Clinic (JTC) has facilities in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California. The Clinic is a pioneering organization in parent-centered, speech and language education for babies and preschool children with hearing losses. This year, JTC celebrates its 60th year of free family services.

Incorporated in 1943, JTC was founded by Louise Treadwell Tracy, wife of the famous actor Spencer Tracy, whose infant son, John, was born with profound hearing loss. From the moment she learned of her son's diagnosis, Mrs. Tracy devoted her time and energy to studying how he could be taught to communicate through speech and language. After achieving great success with John, who went on to become an artist at Disney Studios, Mrs. Tracy was asked by a group of other mothers of deaf children to found an institution that would educate and offer emotional support to families such as theirs. The University of Southern California (USC) allowed the group to use a cottage on campus for its meetings. Initially, no children were part of the program, only weekly classes for parents were offered, taught by a teacher of the deaf.

A Continuum of Services

Today, JTC offers a continuum of integrated services from audiologic assessments, to counseling and parent/infant programs, to preschool and mainstream support. JTC is the only education center of its kind to provide all family services free. The Clinic's intensive three-week summer session is unique among schools for the deaf, and its sibling program is used as a model for deaf schools nationwide. In collaboration with USC, its two accredited teacher education programs are helping to fill a nationwide shortage of qualified professionals in early childhood deaf education.

Families enrolled at John Tracy Clinic have full access to audiologists and counselors, who provide assessment, counseling, audiologic services and professional support and guidance. The Clinic offers free hearing tests to infants, toddlers and preschool children to identify hearing loses as early as possible. Through both its Los Angeles and Long Beach facilities, JTC takes a leadership role in the California Newborn Hearing Screening Program.

The families of newborns who fail hospital hearing screening tests receive immediate counseling and emotional support from the counseling staff. Once their child has been identified as deaf or hard of hearing, they also become eligible for additional services, and the families are invited to join the Parent/Infant Program if they are interested in the JTC's auditory/oral model.

Some families first learn about JTC through free hearing screenings for children in preschools and daycare centers throughout Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange counties, as well as the Coachella Valley area of Riverside County. The Community Hearing Screening Program, which reaches over 16,000 children per year, is designed to identify children with mild and moderate losses. The program's goal is to notify parents of children who may be in need of further help so they can receive appropriate medical, audiologic and educational services as early as possible.

Parent/Infant Program

Built on the premise that parents have the potential to be the most effective teachers of their young deaf child, the Parent/Infant Program at John Tracy Clinic consists of Parent Classes and Support Groups, Friday Family School and Demonstration Home.

The bimonthly evening classes and support groups, which are considered integral to all JTC's services, cover numerous topics in child development, speech and language acquisition and audiology and hearing issues, too. State-of-the-art presentation technology and videoconferencing, a result of the JTC's recent expansion, allow staff and guest speakers to focus on the goals of the presentation rather than on the media itself. Interpreters and bilingual counselors are available for parents who speak Spanish.

Families of many cultures and languages gather on Fridays for the Clinic's Friday Family School. Dedicated to newly diagnosed children, their parents, grandparents and siblings, this program offers families a sense of community as they take part in playgroup experiences together.

During the rest of the week, these same families attend individual session in the Demonstration Homes. The Clinic maintains two Demonstration Homes at the main Los Angeles campus and one at the Long Beach Center. In these simulated home environments, parents learn to foster their child's auditory awareness and speech and language learning through brushing their teeth, making lunch, playing games and other everyday experiences.

Preschool Program

After completing the Parent/Infant Program, families may "graduate" to the Clinic's Preschool Program, which includes individual speech and language services. The program focuses on the special needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing youngsters, ages two to five years old. Offered throughout the academic year and three weeks of the summer, the Preschool Program demonstrates for parents fundamental approaches to their child's listening, language, speech, as well as social and cognitive development. The Preschool comprises three different classes with children grouped by age. With a ratio of three children to each adult, parents, teachers and teacher aids work together to create opportunities for children to be exposed to spoken language.

A new Mainstream Support Program helps parents choose an appropriate neighborhood school, communicate with the regular classroom teachers and aids, and secure needed support services, such as speech therapy. Through JTC's speech and language services, each child in the preschool receives individualized instruction in auditory and listening skills, language development and speech on a daily basis. Specialized Tutoring and Observation Suites are equipped with one-way mirrors and audio systems to allow sessions to be monitored by parents, staff, other professionals and teacher education graduates.

Correspondence Courses

For families living outside the Los Angeles area, JTC has long offered a complete series of Correspondence Courses. Designed for parents to help their deaf and hard-of-hearing child develop communication skills, these distance education courses serve annually some 2,500 families in as many as 140 countries around the world. Offered in both English and Spanish are a Baby Course, a Preschool Course and a Deaf-Blind Course. JTC maintains a list of contacts for obtaining translations of their courses into other languages as well. Once offered only through the mail and an 800 number, the majority of families now enroll in the courses via the Internet and the JTC website.

Correspondence Course families are welcomed to JTC each summer for one of two, three-week family experiences. The program includes a preschool for two-to-five year olds with hearing losses, along with audiologic services, parent classes and support groups, special events, and a sibling program for brothers and sisters ages 6 to 13 years.

Teacher and Professional Education Services

Newborn hearing screening laws, along with advanced hearing aids and cochlear implants, have lead to an increased demand for auditory oral programs in the schools and qualified teachers of the deaf. To help meet this need, JTC trains and certifies teachers and professionals worldwide through its accredited master's degree programs, teacher in-service program and seminars in early childhood deaf education.

The USC Rossier School of Education and JTC collaborate to offer a master's degree and a California Teaching Credential in Early Childhood Deaf Education. Students in the program gain expertise in speech, language and cognitive development as well as a foundation in deafness, psychology, curriculum development and current research. This program is structured so that appropriate candidates can earn the master's and the teaching credential in one academic year. In conjunction with USC, JTC offers one of the nation's first online accredited master's degree programs in Deaf Education. The program is designed for teachers, therapists, administrators and other professionals working in early intervention, preschool or elementary settings.

In addition to its degree programs, JTC conducts regular outreach programs for professionals in the Los Angeles area. Southern California public school special education teachers are invited to participate in the annual Teacher In-service and Education Support (TIES) program, which provides teachers with up-to-date information and teaching strategies in a series of workshops. Clinic staff also offers regular in-service talks and workshops for pediatric residents at UCLA and the Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, specialists at the Los Angeles Unified School District, and others.

For over 60 years, the extraordinary vision of Louise Treadwell Tracy has helped over 200,000 parents and teachers worldwide open the doors of communication for their young children with hearing loss, placing John Tracy Clinic at the forefront of efforts to develop spoken language skills in young deaf and hard-of-hearing children. From the beginning, its mission has been to offer hope, guidance and encouragement to the families of these children by providing free, parent-centered services worldwide.

John Tracy Clinic is a private, nonprofit 501 (c)(3) educational center governed by a 25-member Board of Directors. The Clinic receives no tax-based funding and relies on the compassion and generosity of individuals as well as on grants from corporations and foundations. Over 350 volunteers give an estimated 13,000 hours per year of community service and fund raising for JTC.


I. Sherilynne Di Paolo knew her singing didn't calm down baby Daniella like it had her older brother and sister, but it wasn't until her husband, Ossie, roared by the nursing baby with a very loud carpet cleaner, that Sherilynne knew there was a problem. Daniella didn't even stir. That very day, they contacted their pediatrician, and he sent them to the hospital for a hearing test. It was confirmed. Their darling baby had profound bilateral hearing loss, cause unknown. The Di Paolos immediately enrolled in John Tracy Clinic's Parent/Infant Program because they wanted Daniella to be in a spoken language environment. They especially didn't want her hearing siblings to spend the rest of their lives translating for their baby sister. They started her out on hearing aids, and as soon as she turned one year of age, they took her to a specialist for a cochlear implant. Today, Daniella is just two years old and speaks 85 expressive words. "I honestly can't tell the difference in her speech from those of her hearing friends," says Sherilynne. "Just the other day she came running into the house, grabbed my hand and pulled me out to the garden. ''Mommy, Mommy,' she cried, pointing up to a tree. ''Birdies. Sing.'"

II. Rosa Mendoza knew something was not right with her son Christian as early as 10 months, but all the experts said that she should wait, that he was just shy and a slow developer. They waited until he was 18 months old, when a friend of the family told his dad, Valentino, about John Tracy Clinic. Christian's hearing test showed that he was profoundly deaf, and Rosa and Valentino enrolled Christian right away. Shortly thereafter, he received a cochlear implant. At age five, he graduated from John Tracy Clinic and entered public school a year ago last fall. He now loves talking on the phone to his grandparents, enjoys listening to music and plays sports with his friends like every other kid his age.

III. Christa Lopez of San Dimas, California, was diagnosed at 13 months with progressive severe hearing loss. She and her mother attended the John Tracy Clinic's Parent/Infant Program, and between the ages of four and five she was enrolled in the Clinic's Long Beach Demonstration Home. Her hearing loss progressed and she received a cochlear implant before entering elementary school. Christa's mother insisted he daughter continue her education in a mainstream classroom environment, which encouraged Christa to rely on her growing language skills. She worked very hard, eventually graduating from Loyola Marymount University and subsequently receiving a Master's degree from the USC Rossier School of Education through the Clinic's Master's and Credential Program. She has recently been teaching at an elementary school in Washington, DC.

IV. My name is Al Belmont and I'm from Philadelphia. My son is now 29 years old and a lot of what has happened with his life we owe to John Tracy Clinic. When Albert was born, within a few short weeks his mother, Suzanne, and I felt that there was a problem with his hearing. We went to two different doctors who told us that we were overly concerned, that he was just fine.

Over a year later, when Albert hadn't yet begun to speak and still didn't seem to hear, we went to one of the top specialists in Philadelphia, who, within ten minutes, diagnosed him as being deaf. We were crestfallen because he was our pride and joy. Here was our perfect little boy, and he was broken, and we didn't know what would happen.

When you first find out that your child is deaf, so many thoughts go through your mind. You know, ''Well, if he can't hear well, then, how will he ever be able to learn to read? Because he won't be able to associate the words and such. And if he can't read how will he ever make a life for himself? How will he ever find someone to love him? Do we have what it takes to be able to help him? Where can we get information?''

You're desperate and there's a lot of misinformation that floats around. Experts that we went to started telling us how most hearing-impaired children never get past the fifth grade level. They painted a rather dark picture.

One day, Suzanne saw a story in a magazine about Mrs. Spencer Tracy and the Clinic that she founded in honor of her son. Suzanne wrote for the correspondence course and we began doing all the lesson plans. Albert began to do pretty well. She also read about the Clinic's summer program, and we decided to bring our baby to Los Angeles. The staff came up with a program to work with him on language and speech, while we and the other parents attended classes and a parent support group run by Dr. Alathena Smith and Dr. Barbara Mills. One of Dr. Smith's main messages was this: ''If you want to believe all the dark pictures that others paint, it'll be a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if you're willing to try, it doesn't have to be that way.''

When we returned to Philadelphia, Albert was fortunate to get into a school that had small classes. It was a regular school for regular kids, but it had a very sensitive faculty who did things like have Albert demonstrate to all the other children how he heard. They took his hearing aid around and put it in every child's ear so they could hear like Albert did.

By the time he was in the seventh grade they did a unit on Helen Keller, and the teacher asked the class, ''Do you know anyone who's overcome a handicap?'' These children--who had spent seven years of their lives with Albert--couldn't come up with anybody. She looked at them and said, ''Well, what about Albert?'' And all the kids together looked at her and said, ''There's nothing the matter with Albert. He just has a little trouble with his hearing.'' That's all we ever wanted to hear.

Albert blossomed. He graduated number one in his class from grade school. He won a scholarship to a fine prep school and graduated valedictorian of his class. When he gave his speech as valedictorian, he received a standing ovation.

Albert received a scholarship to Princeton, graduated from Princeton with a 3.6 and won a scholarship to Northwestern Law School, where he became an editor for one of the law journals, and soon became a fine attorney.

He speaks in court and he deals with very important clients. Just about every client that has him work on a project comes away talking about what an excellent attorney he is--and not what an excellent attorney he is in spite of his hearing--just what an excellent attorney he is. He is now married, and he and his wife, Marie, have just had a baby girl. Her name is Brianna Rose and she has perfect hearing. And none of it would have happened without the help of John Tracy Clinic.

We will be grateful forever.

Al Belmont


John Tracy Clinic is supported entirely by private donations, bequests and grants. For more information on services, events or giving opportunities, contact Mary Ann Bell, Vice President for Development and Communications, John Tracy Clinic, 806 W. Adams Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90007, (213) 748-5481, ext. 229. TEL: 213-748-5481; FAX: 213-749-1651; TTY: (213) 747-2924; WEB:

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