What I do

What I Do: Robert Otero, audiologist

What I Do: Robert Otero, Audiologist An educational audiologist serving District 75 and community schools in Brooklyn, Robert Otero ensures all students can hear their teachers loud and clear.

What does an audiologist do?

Audiology is a profession that specializes in trying to prevent, identify and treat hearing loss. It’s now a doctoral-mandated profession, so I have what’s called an Au.D., a doctorate in audiology. As an educational audiologist, I have the responsibility of ensuring that hearing-impaired children have the appropriate hearing assistive technology for progress and success in an academic setting. We try to eliminate the disadvantage of not being able to hear the teacher as clearly as other students do.

How do you do that?

I initially observe a hearing-impaired student in an academic setting and then make a decision as to what I believe is the best form of hearing assistive technology to enable that student to overcome the noise, distance and poor acoustics that make it hard for the student to hear the teacher’s voice. For a student with minimal hearing loss, I may suggest a sound-field speaker or a receiver that uses a headset where the student can control the volume. For more moderate and severe hearing loss, I have to take into account the need for hearing aids or in the case of profound hearing loss, whether the child has received cochlear implants. We have access to hearing assistive technology for all different degrees of hearing loss.

What’s rewarding about your job?

Seeing children light up when I fit them with the appropriate hearing device. They’re typically trying to read a teacher’s lips and fill in the blanks and make an effort to hear that they’re not even aware of, and they’re missing out on a lot. Struggling to hear is quite a drain on the nervous system. Then they have to go home and essentially teach themselves. I’m trying to make it as easy for them as I had it in school: I just had to listen to the teacher.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I have about 110 students on my caseload, and I try to see each of them once a month at minimum. On a typical day, I’m visiting four or five schools in downtown Brooklyn, meeting with students, cleaning their equipment and doing listening checks using what we call a “stetheset.” It’s similar to the stethoscope that a doctor uses, but instead of a cup on the end to hear a heartbeat, it’s got something to plug a hearing aid into so I can hear exactly what a student’s hearing. I also provide students with batteries and wipes for their equipment and teach them to clean and maintain it themselves.

Do you provide equipment for students to help them hear better?

Yes, we provide the equipment mandated on the student’s IEP. This equipment is for the academic setting only and stays in the school building. If students come with their own private equipment, we put an FM receiver on it that picks up the teacher’s microphone. But sometimes there are lapses in insurance, and students lose or break their equipment frequently. Rather than waiting two months for insurance to approve private hearing aids, we sometimes fit them with DOE hearing aids. In some cases, parents who pay out of pocket for hearing aids don’t want to run the risk of their kids losing them at school, so they request that we provide equipment. They take their “home ears” off when they get to school and put their “school ears” on.

What’s the process of fitting a student for a receiver and headset?

First I’ll sit in the classroom and see how a student performs. If a child is really energetic, for example, certain equipment may not be ideal. I’ll look at the IEP to see if they get occupational or physical therapy, because they might require further assistance removing the equipment and changing the batteries. When we fit hearing aids, we have to obtain ear mold impressions. That involves ensuring the ear is clear of wax, placing a silicone material into a syringe and squeezing it into the ear canal. I wait three to five minutes for it to dry and send it to a company that turns the casting into a rubber ear mold that hopefully fits the child perfectly. We refit every eight months or so.

How have you seen hearing assistive technology change over time?

I’ve been an audiologist for 18 years now, and I’ve seen hearing aids come from being analog aids that our grandparents used to wear, where the audiologist would adjust it with a screwdriver, to the current state of technology. Now it’s all digital and you need a computer to program the hearing aid. Initially, digital hearing aids were programmed with cables, and students might pull on the wires and become disconnected. Now everything, including receivers and headsets, is smaller, wireless and programmed through a streaming device.

— As told to reporter Rachel Nobel

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