Name: Sandy Mintz, MS, CCC-A
Position: Director of Hearing Conservation and Audiology Services, Ventura County (Calif.) Office of Education
Hometown: Santa Clarita, Calif.
Sandy Mintz and her children, Gavin and Alessandra.
Whale watching, museums, magic shows, amusement parks—wherever the action is, Sandy Mintz and her kids are there. Although her kids are 13 and 9 (and Mintz is 53), the three are inseparable and spend all their spare time together exploring and seeking new experiences.
"I love seeing my kids come out of their shell, awestruck as they discover new confidence and enjoyment that they weren't expecting," Mintz said. "Given my kids' traumatic early childhood in foster care, they can be reticent to venture out of their comfort zone. So I love exposing them with us being together, letting them partake in the discovery process within an aura of safety."
Mintz adopted Gavin and Alessandra in 2009, when they were 9 and 5 years old, five years after Mintz received the first of her sequential bilateral cochlear implants. A single woman with a successful career as an audiologist, Mintz had always wanted to be a mother, but until she received a cochlear implant she was hesitant to adopt. "I was worried that I wouldn't be able to function sufficiently as the only adult in charge because of the many struggles imposed by my hearing loss," she explains.
The hearing loss that ultimately became severe enough to warrant cochlear implants as an adult started out much less so. Mintz was 6 years old when a routine school screening first detected her relatively mild hearing loss. In fact, she remembers the audiologist catching her peeking at her classmates to see when they were raising their hands so she could pass the test. At the time, the audiologist and her teachers recommended preferential seating and semi-annual hearing checks. As she grew older, however, her hearing loss began to fluctuate and progress. By the time Mintz was 15 years old, the audiologist was recommending a hearing aid. But Mintz, by then a typical teenager, wanted nothing to do with it.
"I didn't see myself as a person with a hearing impairment," she said. "I had enough hearing that I was able to blend in, and I didn't want to be seen as different. I didn't realize, of course, how much of a problem my hearing was for me socially and academically."
Finally, as a high school senior, she acquiesced and was fitted for a hearing aid. Not surprisingly, she started to perform better in school and was accepted to Indiana University.
At her mother's suggestion she took an audiology class her junior year. The class inspired her—and more. It was there that she had the opportunity to examine her own audiograms for the first time, and she realized how much she hadn't been hearing for such a long time. And she could see that it was getting worse.
"I was looking at my audiograms from the time I was 10 years old and I could see that even back then I needed hearing aids," she says. "My parents hadn't received enough information or the right education about my hearing loss and its impact. If they had been told more about how it was affecting me they would have pushed harder for me to get hearing aids sooner."
Today Mintz is the director of hearing conservation and audiology services at the Ventura County Office of Education in California. She leads a team of 15 audiologists, audiometrists and support staff in identifying hearing loss and ensuring educational access for students who are deaf and hard of hearing across 22 school districts. In addition, she has created and implemented a parent education program in the county to ensure that parents are aware of the impact of—and options and responsibilities that go along with—a child's hearing loss.
"It's so important that parents know what the effects can be for their children, and how they can help," Mintz says. "By being in the school system, I feel like I'm back to my roots, helping families and school professionals fully understand hearing loss."
And Mintz has come full circle with her own hearing loss. From a child who tried to cheat her way through a hearing screening to a young woman who confronted her hearing loss and watched it become progressively worse, Mintz is now reveling in the new freedom she has with her cochlear implants. She has learned to take nothing for granted. Everything is precious—from being able to hear and talk to her father on the phone to finding the confidence to share her life with her two children. Mintz is awestruck by it all.
"Before I received my cochlear implants I was making decisions based on my hearing loss," she says. "Now I base my decisions on what really counts."