One Family’s Journey:
Summer with the John Tracy Clinic


By Shelby Willa, Vice President, Arizona Hands & Voices

My five year old son Kaidan was born profoundly deaf due to Waardenburg Syndrome and uses bilateral cochlear implants. During Kaidan’s first year of life, when we lived in California, he attended the John Tracy Clinic. The clinic is an amazing private, non-profit organization that is dedicated to children with hearing loss, with a focus on oral learning. The clinic was started in 1942 by Louise Tracy, the wife of Spencer Tracy and mother of John, who had a hearing loss. The campus is located in Los Angeles, California and has developed a reputation as a world-class oral program for hearing impaired children and their families.

The John Tracy Clinic (JTC) offers a variety of different programs for children with hearing loss. All programs have a team of professionals -- speech and occupational therapists, audiologists, and more -- who are there to evaluate your child, support your family, and answer any concerns or questions you may have. All programs are free of charge to all families.

In the Los Angeles area, families can take part in their birth to three program and pre-school. In the birth to three program, a teacher meets with families for   private weekly sessions called “Demonstration Home.” This takes place in a room that is set up to look like a small apartment, helping children learn language in everyday surroundings.  Kaidan was two weeks old when we started going to JTC. Some might think that is much too young for a child to start in a program but it was perfect for us. The focus was really all about teaching me what to do with Kaidan when we were at home because I was the one that was with him for the majority of each day. During this time we attended support groups and parent education classes. The support groups helped us out tremendously. We don’t know how we would have made it through Kaidan’s first year of life without them.

JTC also has a preschool for kids  ages two through five four days a week. Each child meets with a speech and language therapist daily. We weren’t able to utilize this program because we moved to Arizona when Kaidan was one year old, but we have heard great things about it. 

Last summer, four years from those early days in California, we had the great opportunity to return to JTC for their summer program. Three parent-centered sessions are offered at the Los Angeles campus each summer. Two sessions are conducted in English and one is International with each session lasting three weeks. Upon arriving in California, the first thing that I noticed was the diversity of families who were attending the program. Some families had just received the diagnosis of hearing loss, while others have been dealing with it for awhile. Some families used sign language, and were interested in developing speech and learning about receptive and expressive language skills. There were people from all over the world who Kaidan and I quickly befriended. Many of the families got together in the evenings and on weekends for barbeques or to just hang out at the beach.  I found it interesting that no matter where a family is from or what their cultural background is, we all share very similar fears, hopes, challenges and joys.

Kaidan and I both had very full schedules during the day. Kaidan attended a preschool class with five other children.  Each day was filled with intense oral language learning activities. I was able to discretely observe Kaidan’s daily activities through one-way mirrors. He also received individual speech therapy daily and a complete audiological evaluation.  He absolutely loved going to school and thought it was all about fun and games. I actually saw an increase in his language skills after being there for three weeks due to such a rich language environment. The great thing was that he was learning so much while having fun at the same time. To this day we still listen to the JTC Summer School songs on CD in the car.

While Kaidan was in school, I attended parent classes.We received information on a multitude of topics including Anatomy & Physiology, Individual Education Plans (IEP), Mainstreaming, Language Development, Speech, Literacy, Audiology, Behavior, and Siblings. The IEP class was especially helpful. Before I came to JTC I was told by the school district that Kaidan would be on a 504 plan which I wasn’t very happy about. I gathered all the information that I learned at JTC and was very prepared for our meeting with the school district. It was because of JTC that we got the IEP after all.

We also spent one hour a day in a support group which was filled with both crying and laughter. My favorite segments were the teenage and adult panels. I learned that most of the teenagers participated in sports, had lots of friends and went out on dates. They seemed to have the same problems in high school that I had, which was not at all what I had expected. The adults had families and careers just like anybody else and they let nothing stop them from achieving their goals. I am grateful for the opportunity to attend this summer program and getting a chance to meet some amazing families. I know that we will keep in touch and support one other in the future.

One other program available through JTC is the correspondence program. Familes from all over the world receive lessons with lots of information and activities to do with their child. When the lesson is completed it is sent back to John Tracy Clinic for feedback from an experienced educator.

I would highly recommend their programs to other families. 

Editor’s note: For more information about the John Tracy Clinic, visit and see the informational notice in this issue.

Copyright 2014 Hands & Voices   ::   Privacy Policy   ::   Credits