Are virtual services right for your family, school or district?

Head of UNC’s Pediatric Cochlear Implant Clinic Dedicates Career to Children’s Hearing Health

4 min read
Lisa Park, AuD, division chief of UNC’s Children’s Cochlear Implant Center and former Clarke team member

In March, we celebrate World Hearing Day, with a focus on hearing health for all communities, as well as International Women’s Day, a day when women around the world are recognized for their achievements.   

One former member of the Clarke team, pediatric audiologist Lisa Park, AuD, was recently named the first division chief of the Children’s Cochlear Implant Center at UNC-Chapel Hill. We spoke to her recently to learn more about her background, her work and to gain her perspective on the importance of hearing health care for children.  

A Career Spent Helping Children

Lisa earned degrees in speech and language pathology from Fontbonne University, speech and hearing science from Washington University in St. Louis, as well as a doctorate in audiology from the University of Florida.   

“I enjoyed my courses and especially working with the kids in clinic, but I was drawn to the science in my audiology classes,” she says of her decision to become a pediatric audiologist. “I knew I wanted to work with kids with exceptionalities and pediatric audiology is the perfect fit.” 

“I’m very fortunate that my whole career, including my education, has focused on helping children with significant hearing challenges access sound.”

She later spent four years working as a pediatric audiologist at Clarke when it was a residential program in Northampton, MA, which she says gave her both significant professional insight and a lot of personal enjoyment. “I loved working with the kids. We went skiing, had dance club and musicals. I’m very fortunate that my whole career, including my education, has focused on helping children with significant hearing challenges access sound.”  

She adds that the experiences have given her a priceless firsthand perspective on how hearing loss can impact a child’s entire life — not just with communication issues but their social and academic needs as well. It’s hard for everyone to go through adolescence, but when you’re different, it’s another layer of hard,” she says. 

Her efforts to help children with hearing loss at all ages and stages of life also inspired her to launch a study into single-sided deafness. 

Driven to Meet Each Child’s Unique Needs, as Early as Possible

Lisa poses with the “Wall of Fame” at UNC’s Children’s Cochlear Implant Center, where pediatric patients leave their handprint and name on cochlear implant activation day.

As the saying goes, if you’ve met one deaf child, you’ve met one deaf child.  

Each child’s hearing loss and its impact on them is unique. That’s equally true for children with unilateral, or single-sided deafness (SSD). While they have similarities with their peers who have bilateral hearing loss, they also have significant differences.  

Children with SSD are actually more likely to miss out on needed support because they often can “pass” as having typical hearing. SSD can create numerous challenges for students, including difficulty localizing the source of a sound and understanding speakers located on the same side as their hearing loss. 

As part of her work at UNC Chapel Hill, Lisa has begun The Little SSD Study. The program aims to better understand the safety and effectiveness of cochlear implants in children under the age of three who have SSD.  

“The FDA approved cochlear implants for children with single-sided deafness a few years ago, but children need to be five years old to meet those guidelines,” she explains. “We know that early intervention is so crucial for kids who are deaf or hard of hearing so it makes sense that it would be important for kids with unilateral hearing loss, too.”  

The study is also exploring the speech, language and behavioral differences between children with typical hearing, children with untreated SSD and children with SSD who received a cochlear implant at younger ages.   

To learn more about supporting students with SSD in mainstream educational settings, read our article Accommodating Single-Sided Hearing Loss in Mainstream Settings.” 

Implementing the Latest Technologies to Meet Communication Goals

Lisa with a Clarke graduate on commencement day at Clarke in 2005.

Over her career, Lisa notes that she’s seen many changes, especially in the advancement of hearing technology. For example, digital hearing aids were relatively new when she started out. But she says the most impactful change has been the expansion of who can be helped by that technology. “Now, we can help kids who can’t access high-frequency sounds be able to hear them. We can help kids with deafness in only one ear. We can get infants hearing as early as is safe for them to undergo surgery. And there is so much more on the horizon,” she says. 

In her role, Lisa generally meets with families after their child has been diagnosed with a hearing loss and when they’re weighing potential interventions. She notes that a lot of the questions she receives are about myths and misinformation about cochlear implants that families have picked up from social media.  

She adds that while a lot of other factors are taken into consideration to determine if a child is a good candidate or a cochlear implant, the most important is whether hearing aids will be able to give the child access to the sound they need to meet their communication goals. “If not, then a cochlear implant is worth considering,” she says. 

Today, children with hearing loss have greatly improved their overall ability to communicate, thanks in part to improved hearing technology and therapeutic interventions. Fortunately, through the work of Lisa and so many other hearing health professionals like her, children with hearing loss now have many more resources and options to help them meet those challenges and live their lives to the fullest.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.Required fields are marked *