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Aaron Hiscutt could easily have been left in isolation by his classmates in middle school. After all, he cannot see or hear them well, and communication is very, very difficult.
But instead, the energetic 12-year-old has many friends; he is responsible for a sign language club at school; and he is the inspiration and driving force behind a pilot of a new program guided by experts based in Vanderbilt’s Division of Developmental Medicine.
Colonial Heights Middle School, in Kingsport, Tenn., is home to the pilot of a Youth Speakers Bureau for the Tennessee Project for Individuals with Combined Hearing and Vision Loss, which goes by the name TREDS. This winter, a group of Aaron’s middle school classmates brought their program to the twice-annual meeting of the TREDS Advisory Council, a group of representatives from various agencies and disciplines from across the state of Tennessee.
More on that presentation later-- but first a little background on how the pilot came to be.
Aaron’s family began working with the TREDS program before he turned 2. Despite near blindness, severe hearing loss and serious speech impairment, the Hiscutts wanted their son to become fully engaged in life and school. With all that love and support, Aaron had no problems all the way through elementary school. But once he turned 10, everyone recognized they would have to do something to special to help Aaron navigate the perilous waters of middle school.

Labor of Love
“Kids can be tough in middle school,” said Aaron’s mother, Susan Hiscutt. “TREDS came up with a great idea, and suggested a Youth Speakers Bureau. They came up to Kingsport and helped select friends who already knew him and helped the students make this terrific video and Power Point presentation.”
The presentation quickly became a labor of love for friends and initiating members of the Youth Speakers Bureau: Courtney Crussell and Leslie Price, both 11.
“We were trying to get the message that Aaron is a regular kid. He looks a little different, but he is the same as us,” Leslie said.
“Aaron is so funny. He can make great funny faces, and sign language has been fun for us to learn,” Courtney said.
With guidance and technical assistance from the Vanderbilt TREDS team, Aaron and his friends completed the presentation in spring of 2009. Aaron, whose vision and hearing impairment are the result of a condition called CHARGE Syndrome, would rely on his classmates to bridge the communication gap for others who might not know how to approach Aaron.

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