Reaching Children Everywhere

iHear Internet Therapy, News

Online Education and Therapy For Oklahoma Children with Hearing Loss

St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf Licenses its Innovative Internet Therapy Program

First licensee — Hearts for Hearing in Oklahoma City

In an innovative partnership designed to reach children with hearing loss throughout the state of Oklahoma, St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf has licensed a groundbreaking and innovative internet therapy program called iHear to Hearts for Hearing, based in Oklahoma City, OK.

The licensing agreement represents the first time that St. Joseph Institute, based in St. Louis, has offered its acclaimed internet therapy program to another organization specializing in auditory-verbal therapy.

“iHear sets itself apart because we are the only school for the deaf in the country that offers speech therapy services online with optimum security measures to ensure privacy and compliance with federal HIPAA regulations and educational FERPA regulations,” says Debbie Wilson, president of St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf. “In addition, we have been at the forefront of distance learning, developing a program that can be used directly in a child’s home or school district. The result is that we can help children no matter where they reside, in any state and around the world.”

Hearts for Hearing, established in 2003, has offered limited internet therapy for several years. “Our internet connections were problematic and we were always concerned about HIPAA compliance, which was a critical issue,” says Joanna Smith, MS, CCC-SLP, LSLS Certified AVT, co-founder and executive director of Hearts for Hearing. “With SJI, our connection is much faster and more consistent. We also can access their lesson plans and collaboratively enhance iHear’s coaching model. It’s exciting that we now have the tools and the expertise to help us reach children who previously were unserved in rural areas in Oklahoma.”

SJI’s iHear program, established in 2009, enables children with a range of hearing impairments — from cochlear implant recipients to those who use hearing aids — to work with skilled listening and spoken language specialists via the secure internet link.  Essential to the program’s success is its collaborative coaching model, in which the iHear staff coach a parent or educator present with the child in each iHear session. The coaches are then able to reinforce the exercises and lessons learned in between the therapy sessions.

“Nationally, we know that there are more than 12,000 children with hearing loss who do not currently receive affordable, quality therapy services,” says Wilson. “As the word gets out about iHear, we are getting inquiries from multiple states. Already we have worked with families in rural Missouri, Nebraska, Montana, Florida, Kansas, Illinois and Indiana, with calls also coming in from overseas.”

“We are thrilled to be able to participate in the first licensing contract for the next three years and we believe that this is another step in changing the face of deafness in our state,” says Smith. “This program will help us realize the dream that every child in Oklahoma has the same opportunities to learn to listen and talk for a lifetime.”

Smith adds, “We also believe that iHear will allow us to address the critical shortage of skilled listening and spoken language specialists in the state.  School districts frequently contract with Hearts for Hearing to provide training and support for children with hearing loss and iHear will enhance our ability to meet their needs.  Our hope is to collaborate with more districts over the next three years.”

The two organizations will collaborate on compiling data about internet therapy and its effectiveness for children with hearing loss. Families already are touting the benefits of iHear’s effectiveness. Since the program began last year, young children ages 0 to 6 have increased their standardized test scores after six to 12 months of iHear sessions. To date, SJI has logged more than 2,000 iHear therapy sessions and has developed more than 250 interactive digital lesson plans.

“This is truly a game-changer in how we approach deaf education services for families seeking auditory-verbal therapy,” says Smith.


St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf (SJI) is based in St. Louis, Mo. The independent private school was founded in 1837 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and specializes in listening and spoken language educational programs and services for children with hearing loss from birth through grade 8.  Its campuses in Kansas City and Indianapolis serve children from birth through grade 1 or 2.

In 2009, after a successful pilot program, SJI launched iHear. With nationally recognized programs, faculty, and staff, St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf has consistently been at the forefront of listening and spoken language services. It was the first school in the United States to develop a curriculum for children with cochlear implants in the 1980s.

Hearts for Hearing is a nonprofit organization based in Oklahoma City, OK. Established in 2003, Hearts for Hearing makes it possible for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to learn to listen and talk. It is the largest comprehensive pediatric hearing healthcare, early intervention program and auditory-oral preschool in Oklahoma and is overseen by professionals who are known both nationally and internationally for the excellent outcomes achieved and for research related to the improvement of technology both for hearing aids and cochlear implants.