BOONE COUNTY — Ella Dampf scrutinizes each word as questions and statements are directed at her from teachers and parents. She tends to skip over vocabulary she doesn't know and hesitates to answer when she is entirely unsure of the topic at hand.
At age four, she is learning how to hear. Ella has been deaf since birth. At eight months old the doctors embedded cochlear implants so she could process sound.
It is easy to assume cochlear implants are the equivalent to the human ear in terms of hearing capabilities, but that isn't true.
Words are not learned through casual conversation. With her cochlear implants, Ella must be taught everything she knows.
"Learning language is different for children with a hearing impairment because their brain has had to adjust to hear through their implants, so a lot of those words that normal children learn through hearing, have to be specifically taught to someone with a hearing loss," Jessica White of the Moog Center said.
Ella began attending the Moog Center, a school for the deaf and hearing impaired, when she was a couple months old. The years of intense speech therapy and class time helped Ella develop her vocabulary and speaking skills.
But learning does not stop in the classroom. Ella's older sister, Catherine, is also deaf and their parents, Michelle and Jeff Dampf, constantly talk and ask questions to help their daughters improve their auditory skills.
"My husband and I have learned how to incorporate all different aspects of language into everything that we do," Michelle Dampf said. "So that she (Ella) has lots of opportunities to practice the language she's learning through the Moog School, and also, she's learning how to listen to different types of questions through her cochlear implants."
Learning became part of Ella's life at a very early age, and there are times when the chore becomes exhausting.
"I've noticed that when both girls come home from school at 3 p.m., they want some time where they aren't having to listen to anybody," Michelle Dampf said. "They just want to be by themselves for a while and not have more audio input than they want."