Student Spotlight – Theo Murphy

Janet Li describes her son Theo Murphy as “a very happy and confident boy.” “He’s goofy, and a bit of a ham, and he likes to make friends with everyone he meets,” she continues. “He loves to laugh but loves making other people laugh even more”—qualities, in short, that make him right at home at Ohio Valley Voices.

Theo was born in 2016 with microtia atresia, a congenital birth defect that meant his ears were not fully formed and had no ear canals. Although a significant degree of hearing loss was to be expected, tests revealed that Theo did have some access to sound. Janet and her husband, Mike Murphy, were so relieved.

The next step following Theo’s diagnosis was to find the right school. Thankfully, Janet’s parents lived down the street from Ohio Valley Voices and her mom mentioned it while Theo was still in the NICU.

“We toured the school right away and were in awe of the work they were doing,” Janet recalls. “As we explored our options, we were drawn to OVV’s mission to teach children who are deaf and hard of hearing to speak, as opposed to other programs that focus on teaching sign language. Once it was clear that Theo was a good candidate for the school, we were eager to enroll him full-time.”

Janet and Mike promptly signed Theo up for OVV’s Parent-Infant Program, and he began attending sessions as soon as he was discharged from the hospital.

That was three and a half years ago. Today, Theo is thriving in Ohio Valley Voices’ Exploring Center, where he works to improve his language skills, build his vocabulary, and learn to read and write with the help of Ms. Lexi Parsons, Ms. Lauren Pier, and Ms. Selina Kissell.

“Theo has learned so much this year in the Exploring Center,” Janet says. “He’s always making crafts or treats, and he loves the books in the classroom. We can tell by the tremendous progress he’s made that he must really enjoy the lessons too.”

Janet and Mike anticipate that Theo will be ready to graduate from OVV within the next year, at which point he’ll mainstream into Kilgour Elementary School in Mount Lookout. But neither Theo nor his parents are in any rush to take that next step. For now, they’re savoring the wonderful opportunities for learning—and fun—that OVV has to offer.

“Theo’s favorite school activities include making things and eating lunch,” Janet says. “He loves the time he gets to spend with his favorite teacher Ms. Lauren and his best friend Mikey. He also gets very excited if he and Mikey happen to show up at school wearing matching Spiderman shirts.”

Theo Murphy

But it isn’t simply the playful, nurturing environment that sets Ohio Valley Voices apart from other programs. As Janet explains, OVV’s emphasis on parent education has also played a crucial role in fostering Theo’s growth.

“Beginning with our time in the Parent-Infant Program, Mike and I were given so much information and guidance about how to navigate this completely new process and best support Theo,” Janet explains. “This continued through the Toddler Program and into the Exploring Center, where we still have regularly scheduled parent education sessions.”

By involving the entire family, OVV’s parent education sessions guarantee that the lessons taught during the day in the classroom are reinforced around the clock at home. The result is that parents, grandparents, siblings, and even babysitters are empowered to become active participants in a child’s development, greatly boosting that development in the process.

“Parent education sessions have been tremendously helpful,” Janet elaborates. “We hear from Theo’s teachers about what he’s working on, along with the how and why. We get suggestions about how we can continue, or supplement, those efforts at home. It was daunting at first to try to figure out our role in his speaking journey, but we’ve been given tons of helpful tools to help him progress.”

It is precisely this personalized, family-centered approach that has made the Murphy’s time at Ohio Valley Voices so rewarding. On the heels of another successful year in the program, Janet feels grateful for OVV and the incalculable impact it has had on her family.

“Ohio Valley Voices has been such a blessing for Theo and our family,” Janet observes. “It has already had a profound impact on Theo’s ability to communicate effectively, which in turn has had a profound effect on our entire family and our approach to raising him. It’s hard to imagine where Theo would be without OVV, but we’re glad we don’t have to think too hard about that.”

While the benefits of attending OVV are almost too numerous to list, Janet delights in noticing the small signs that demonstrate Theo’s phenomenal growth and seemingly limitless potential.

“Theo just recently started soccer,” she says offhandedly but with evident pride. “He is very good at listening during practice and is always the first one to shout out answers to his coach’s questions.”