A Day in the Life of a PE

Posted Monday December 06, 2021 by begadmin

Parent Educators, or PEs, fulfill a vital role at BEGINNINGS. They are the highly trained, dedicated staff members who empower, inform, and support the families of deaf or hard-of-hearing children all across North Carolina.

Children in our state are now typically screened by audiologists at birth, and then again before starting school.  Diagnostic results are sent to BEGINNINGS, which then assigns PEs to the families whose children have documented hearing loss. The PEs contact these families and offer in-person or remote visits where they can explain the hearing loss in detail, offer emotional support and encouragement, and discuss options such as whether the child may need an IEP (an Individual Education Plan for students who require special education services) or a 504 plan (for students who can learn within a general education environment with stated modifications).

Since 1987, BEGINNINGS has had a remarkably effective process in place to empower parents. However, just like snowflakes or autumn leaves, no two PEs are exactly alike in how they carry out their particular duties. And, in the words of several PEs, “There is no such thing as a typical day!”

Below are some on-the-job observations by BEGINNINGS PEs:

ERIN: When I first started with BEGINNINGS, in 1987, the State of NC did not mandate screening for hearing loss at birth. The first time I might interact with most of my families, then, was as the children started preschool and parents were anxious to line up school services. Now, many of my referrals are for brand-new families, and they tend to be overcome at first by the news. They are also more likely to go straight to the Internet for information. So my task when meeting with them is to say, “Let’s take this one step at a time.”

JOHANNA: Many families I contact have never experienced hearing loss themselves or had it in their immediate families, so they are grappling with an unexpected diagnosis and information they may not understand. My goal is to meet them where they are – literally and figuratively. My calendar must be flexible if they need night, weekend, morning appointments, and whether or not they are comfortable meeting me for the first time at home, or on a Zoom call.

WILMA:  Hearing loss is an invisible disability. Unless a child wears hearing aids, no one can tell that a child is deaf simply by looking at her. That makes it difficult at first for parents to handle the news. Sometimes they are relieved, because they felt in their gut that something was different for their child; sometimes they feel guilt that they didn’t notice some signs early on. So we listen to those feelings and offer encouragement.

MELANIE:  I ’ve observed that individual parents and caregivers cope with their child’s hearing loss diagnosis differently. This is normal and to be expected. Some parents and caregivers may feel overwhelmed at first by the news and may need time to process what hearing loss means for their child and their family.  Parents and caregivers may need information from me in bite-size pieces as they can begin to process it … and they may need information repeated or shared in various ways.

JOAN: One referral by a school or audiologist to a PE requires layers of paperwork, emails and calls. A home visit with a family can last up to two hours plus travel time, and there is research to do before the visit; notes to write up after the visit; and follow up calls/emails to be sure that a family feels empowered and has the resources they need going forward.

WILMA: Hispanic Outreach PEs like me have another layer to the regular PE job to do, which is to also help families understand the basics of a school system, what an audiologist does, how you talk to a doctor and ask for information, who is who in this new world for your child. And when English is not your first language, this can be really challenging.

JOHANNA: I like to think of myself and other PEs at BEGINNINGS as good listeners. It’s important to be a good collaborator with parents and explain that we are seeking as a team what is APPROPRIATE for the child, not necessarily what they might define as BEST.  I’m an “information booth” for parents as they seek to understand their child’s needs, the school system, the healthcare system and more. I always say, “If I don’t have an answer to a question immediately, I know how to find one and will follow up.”

KAREN: I devote time to researching family resources on an ongoing basis, such as financial aid programs for expensive equipment; sign language classes in their area or online; specific computer programs that might be helpful; or ways to improve our support for families seeking an IEP for their children.

JOAN: We all track our families in our system so we know who to reach out during delicate transition periods — such as when the child goes into kindergarten, middle school or high school. These are times when a visit with the parents can really be empowering for them. I take this time to remind them of our services and assure them we are still available.

KAREN: We have an excellent family follow-up process, but there are still children and families who “disappear” along the way. We do our best to find out what happened and how to reengage with them. We call the referring audiologist to follow up, and we keep trying to reach the families themselves. Sometimes they simply aren’t getting messages, or they have moved; other times they might be coping with other family issues. That was especially true during COVID when many families had job losses, were home schooling, etc.

MELANIE: COVID has been a particularly challenging time for families and educators, as school systems had to work creatively and quickly to create COVID friendly systems for evaluating children for special education services and for providing special education services to students. I have observed that parents, children, and teachers were all doing the best they could with the basics of online learning. Now that children are going back to school in person, I have observed that the lack of in person learning and services for our children last year has created many real challenges. I expect we will be busier and busier as the school year goes on.

ERIN: Something people may not realize is that a percentage of our families have children where hearing loss is only one among several challenges or medical diagnoses.  So these parents need a special approach from us because they may feel overcome by what to think about first, or a more serious, life-threatening condition means hearing loss goes on the back burner.

ALEJANDRA: As a new PE, I have been observing my colleague Gheydis who like me is a Hispanic Parent Educator. We had an in-person visit with a family from Guatemala whose son had been suspended from school because he did not sit down on the bus when he was told to sit. It was because he had a severe hearing loss, but there was no IEP or 504 plan in place at the school to let the school know. After listening to Gheydis explain the next steps to this family – in their own language – the family went from being frustrated to having hope again and being grateful for BEGINNINGS’ help. It was very heartwarming, and I can’t wait to have more experiences like this one as a PE.