Alumni Spotlight – Lily DeBlasio

There are many things a hearing community takes for granted, like the sound of laughter or a bird’s song. Lily DeBlasio hears differently. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Lily was adopted by her mother Gina DeBlasio, and lives in Loveland, Ohio. According to Gina, Lily’s journey from Russia to becoming a student at Ohio Valley Voices is nothing short of miraculous. 

Lily was diagnosed as deaf at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center when she was six months old. “I remember when Lily was officially diagnosed,” says Gina. “My brother said it was like air came into the room and we could finally breathe. Having a diagnosis enabled us to make plans to move forward.”  

Lily’s hearing loss could pose a barrier to education and social integration. However, her family knew that children with hearing loss could benefit significantly from early diagnosis and appropriate interventions.  

Knowing the hearing journey in front of her daughter, Gina leaped into action. “My sister knew someone on OVV’s Board of Trustees and immediately called her after learning of Lily’s diagnosis,” says Gina. “A phone call later and we met with Maria Sentelik, the Executive Director at OVV, and shortly thereafter Lily started at OVV. She was only eighteen months old.”  

“We wanted Lily to have the same opportunities as any other child,” Gina comments. “I am so grateful OVV was available at such a crucial time in Lily’s development. Her language acquisition would have been negatively impacted if she had not been able to attend OVV as soon as she was diagnosed.”

The DeBlasios applaud the wonderful teachers who supported their daughter. According to Lily’s mother, Miss Janice and Mrs. Ash will always hold a special place in Lily’s heart because she started with them as a toddler. They were her teachers again as a second-grader. 

Lily’s first friend at OVV was Claire Arnsparger. They were together in the toddler program in 2010, and they have maintained their friendship ever since. Using technology, Lily and Claire talk every day via Snapchat.  

The OVV education model embraces the whole child, enabling them to be as independent as possible. “OVV was invaluable in teaching us how to parent a child with hearing loss,” states Gina. “I attended weekly parenting classes to learn about deaf education and joined a support group. In addition, OVV’s teachers and staff offered advice or served as a sounding board.”

Gina fondly remembers the staff sharing “Lily stories” during pick-up after school. The staff worked diligently to help Lily transition to a mainstream school. Lily attended second through sixth grades at Boyd E. Smith Elementary in Milford. She then transitioned to Seven Hills for the seventh grade. Now thirteen, she’s scheduling classes for her eighth grade at Seven Hills.  

Most learning environments aren’t like OVV classrooms. Lily was prepped for mainstream schooling by becoming accustomed to background noise. Lily needed to work harder than most students to overcome ambient noise and visual distractions. Her teachers and OVV staff helped her by simulating real-life classroom environments.  

OVV empowered Lily to become her own advocate. “I know it’s hard for children to speak up, especially when they’re afraid they won’t understand what someone says back to them,” Gina shares. “Lily speaks up for what she wants. She lets her teachers know when she can’t hear or when her closed captioning isn’t working.” 

Lily DeBlasio

Initially, Lily appears to be reserved and introverted. But, according to her mother, Lily is very social. “When her true personality shines through, you will see she loves to laugh and be a part of a group.” She also loves to read and write. Her writing skills enabled her to attend a writing workshop at Miami University last summer.

“Whenever we drive past OVV, I think about how grateful I am to the school,” Gina adds. “Without OVV, I believe Lily would not have the gift of speech.” Recently, Lily accompanied her mother, an English teacher, to school. “She sat in my English class,” shares Gina. “After Lily’s visit, I told my students my daughter was deaf. Most of them thought I was lying. Many said, ‘But she talked with us! She heard everything we said!'”

Lily’s mother wanted to make sure she reached her full potential. So, like thousands of children with hearing loss, she gained communication and other skills she needed to carry her through life. Gina believe that she has the same opportunities as her peers, who can hear normally. “I can’t overstate OVV’s impact on our family,” stresses Gina. “Because of OVV, Lily is able to communicate with anyone and everyone.  Lily is able to overcome the limitations often placed on a person with hearing loss because she learned how to speak and listen at OVV.”   

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