The Helen Beebe Legacy

Beebe and children

The AG Bell Association partnered with the Helen Beebe Speech and Hearing Center through a generous grant to fund the development of the Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center. Helen Beebe was a pioneer in the field who believed that children with hearing loss could listening, talk and thrive in the educational mainstream – at a time when it was widely believed that they could not. Affectionately known as “Beebe” to all that knew her, she pioneered a method that changes the lives of many children and their families and a multitude of professionals.

Beebe’s career demonstrated the power of mentoring – a critical foundation in the area of listening and spoken language and an influence that she would pay forward many times over. Beebe worked briefly as a teacher of the deaf for several different programs, but she later sought a career that would allow her to work with children with hearing loss in a different capacity. A fortuitous connection with the famed Austrian physician and speech-language pathologist, Emil Froeschels, was the beginning of a mentoring relationship that would last 25 years and set her on a path to becoming a speech-language pathologist.

“One of the most informative things I learned from Dr. Froeschels was his application of the “Chewing Approach’ to voice problems, stuttering, etc.” Beebe wrote in a letter to a colleague describing her career. “In several instances I used it to improve the voice quality of traditionally trained oral deaf.”

The Unisensory Approach

Beebe adapted the methods of her mentor to teaching children with hearing loss to pioneer the “Unisensory Approach” or what is now known as the auditory-verbal approach. Beebe believed that children with hearing loss could make use of whatever residual hearing they had – no matter how little – to develop spoken language with a natural intonation. In 1950, Beebe presented the philosophy at the International Association of Logopedics and Phoniatrics (IALP) meeting in Amsterdam. Contemporaries Doreen Pollack and Henk Huizing presented the same philosophy at this meeting, giving it the label, "Unisensory."

In her 1953 book, A Guide to Help the Severely Hard of Hearing Child (1953), Beebe wrote, “Both in home training and in therapy, lipreading should be avoided as much as possible. Otherwise the child will become dependent upon lipreading and will not use his hearing.”

Beebe began her practice with children with hearing loss out of her home with a single student, Mardie Crannell Younglof, who had a profound, prelingual hearing loss and wore one of the first vacuum-tube hearing aids on the market.

“Hearing aids had just barely become wearable,” Beebe wrote in a letter to a colleague. “We secured a very powerful aid which had to be worn with the microphone in the front pocket of a jacket and batteries in the back pocket. To introduce sound to via her ears before the hearing aid was worn regularly, her mother was given a speaking tube devised by attaching a kitchen funnel at one end of a piece of rubber tubing and an ear olive at the other. Speech was delivered via this tube all day long.”

As they worked together three times a week, Beebe would cover her mouth with her hands as she spoke, requiring her young student to make use of her hearing to process language. Beebe felt that a miracle occurred when she heard Mardie’s first spontaneous utterance at age three, the word “Hi!” Her parents enrolled her in a private mainstream nursery school, and decades later Mardie received cochlear implants.

The Rubella pandemic between 1962 and 1965 swept across Europe and spread to the United States leading to an estimated 12.5 million children born with Congenital Rubella Syndrome in the United States alone, and brought more parents and children to Beebe, including David J. Davis.

A woman of boundless energy who did not possess the word “impossible” in her vocabulary, Beebe offered hope to parents, teaching them to help their children develop listening and spoken language, even in the face of significant criticism and skepticism in the field. Beebe’s practice grew and moved several times to larger quarters. To make her work available to families worldwide, Beebe opened the Larry Jarrett House in 1975. This intensive weeklong residence program allowed families from all over the United States and several foreign countries to come and learn how to maximize their child’s residual hearing and develop listening and spoken language. The entire family would stay in the apartment, using the kitchen to learn strategies for developing language through everyday activities so that they could continue to use these strategies in their home even if services were not available locally. Hundreds of families from all over the United States and numerous foreign countries participated in this program.

Serving Families Worldwide

In 1978, Beebe donated her practice to the Larry Jarrett Foundation, creating the Helen Beebe Speech and Hearing Center, which blazed the trail for what, would become the auditory-verbal therapy approach. Services were offered on a sliding scale and no family was ever turned away. At its height, the center employed six therapists and a clinical director, and carried a caseload of about 50 clients. The Center trained and influenced numerous clinicians over the years that came to observe the program, including graduate students from Pennsylvania State University and Temple University. Practitioners, who volunteered or were employed at the Beebe Center at various points, later opened their own practices where they are still practicing and mentoring others today.

“Beebe’s vision at that time, coupled with her unique method of teaching children who are deaf or hard of hearing and her belief that parents were the critical change agents results in hundreds of individual who are deaf or hard of hearing who have learned spoken language. Her other legendary gift was her mentoring of hundred of teachers, deaf educators, speech-language pathologists and audiologists about her teaching techniques. I have been blessed to be one of those fortunate educators,” said Donald M. Goldberg, Ph.D., CCC-SLP/A, LSLS Cert. AVT.

In the words of Robert Bush, who served as a board member and as the last president of the board of directors for the Beebe Center said, “Helen Beebe blazed the trail and The Helen Beebe Speech and Hearing Center became a leading provider for what became the auditory-verbal therapy approach," said Robert Bush, who serves as a longtime board member and president of the board of directors. "The Knowledge Center will honor the legacy of Helen Beebe by providing information, resources and support to families and professionals all over the world."

Beebe shared her knowledge through lectures and presentations worldwide and received an honorary doctorate from Lafayette College in 1985. She was the first president of Auditory-Verbal International (the predecessor to the AG Bell Academy for Listening and Spoken Language) and served on the board of AG Bell, which awarded her its highest recognition, the Honors of the Association, in 1987. In its later history, the Beebe Center evolved to focus on professional development through funding scholarships for those who wanted to become a certified Listening and Spoken Language Specialist (LSLS™) or for professionals who wanted to serve as a mentor. Beebe continued to serve as a clinician, teacher and mentor up until just before her death in 1989 at age 80.

Today, lay people may believe that auditory-verbal practice started with the advent of cochlear implant technology. In reality, it began more than 70 years ago with two grand dames, Helen Beebe and Doreen Pollack, and their contemporaries, Daniel Ling, Louise Crawford, Marian Ernst and Ciwa Griffiths among others. They believed that children with hearing loss could listen and talk – and they achieved incredible outcomes even with the limited technology available at the time.

Support for the Knowledge Center

Over the years, Helen Beebe influenced thousands of professionals in the field, parents of children with hearing loss and adults who were once the recipients of her clinical talents. The Helen Beebe legacy continues today through the Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center, which was made possible through the generosity of the Helen Beebe Speech and Hearing Center.

Carrying on the legacy of its founder, the Listening and Spoken Language Knowledge Center, which will become a resource for parents all over the world who need information about listening and spoken language and who hope that their children will be able to listen, talk and learn in the mainstream. The Knowledge Center will also be a vital resource for professionals seeking new strategies for service delivery and a connection with a mentor that can guide them along the path to becoming a certified LSLS.