Helping break sound barriers
Australia Day Ambassador: Dimity Dornan
A CHANCE encounter with a deaf boy led Australia Day Ambassador and speech pathologist Dimity Dornan AO to pioneer assistance for deaf children.
Dr Dornan recalled pausing to help a screaming boy on her way to work at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane.
“He was about 15, drumming his heels in the gutter, and wouldn’t stop screaming,” she said.
“As I was running up the hill to get a doctor, a lady came out and signed: ‘Are you sick?’
“‘No, my bus money rolled into the drain’, he signed back.
“A number of years later I worked with children with hearing loss in the Education Department, and I wanted to learn.”
During her 1992 Churchill Fellowship in Canada, she learned Auditory-Verbal Therapy, which educated parents to teach their child with a hearing loss – and hearing aid – how to listen and speak.
In the same year, Dr Dornan opened the first of six non-profit Hear and Say Centres, which now support about 65% of Queensland children with hearing loss.
“I had far too many children for private practice,” she said.
“I couldn’t physically see them all and I wanted others to come and help me.”
The “positively amazing” results of her 2011 PhD showed that a group of Hear and Say children and another group with normal hearing “were able to progress at exactly the same rate”.
“The vast majority of them (hearing loss children) were age-appropriate (in language skills) by school.
“That’s a complete reversal of what was possible before cochlear implants.”
As 92% of children with permanent hearing loss are born to hearing parents, “telling parents when babies are diagnosed that everything will be OK” remained a career highlight for Dr Dornan.
The next were the moments when children heard for the first time with a cochlear implant and when those children came back about age 16 to tell her how grateful they were to speak.
She also developed the world’s first telehealth model for Auditory-Verbal Therapy, and last December chaired the world’s first Human Bionics Interface Frontiers meeting.
“Australia developed the cochlear implant; Australia is leading the world in the area of bionics,” Dr Dornan said.
“The techniques are part biological and part engineering – it’s an amazing time in history to be standing.”
While the next advances for hearing loss may come from neuro-pharmacy, stem cell treatment or artificial intelligence, she said it was important progress be “slow, with ethical caution”.
Dr Dornan will give her Australia Day address at the Mt Perry Sport and Recreation Centre, Heusman St, from 10am as part of the Australia Day awards presentation.
POSITIVE RESULTS: Dimity Dornan, the founder of the Hear and Say Centres that support about 65% of Queensland young children diagnosed with hearing loss, will visit Mt Perry as Australia Day Ambassador.