HEAR­ING WORDS OF LOVE

When her deaf daugh­ter Amelia, now aged nine, de­vel­oped strange habits and be­gan to show signs of ag­gres­sion, au­thor MELINDA HILDE­BRANDT went on a mis­sion to find out why

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Stellar - - How i make it work -

When I found out my daugh­ter was deaf, I was deeply shat­tered. But when she was di­ag­nosed with autism, my re­ac­tion was, “Oh, thank god.” Let me ex­plain.

My hus­band and I didn’t know Amelia was deaf or autis­tic when she was a baby. She wasn’t tested for deaf­ness [in 2009] when she was born – they were still in the process of rolling out the Vic­to­rian In­fant Hear­ing Screen­ing Pro­gram for new­borns. Over her first two years, she was su­per-re­spon­sive, but her speech de­vel­op­ment was sorely lack­ing. After a se­ries of tests, she was di­ag­nosed with per­ma­nent se­vere hear­ing loss. It ex­plained why she hadn’t been speak­ing, and why she was al­ways off in her own world – which we didn’t re­alise then was also be­hav­iour as­so­ci­ated with autism.

Over the next two years, Amelia grew more frus­trated. At first I thought it was her hear­ing aids: adapt­ing to new sounds, and try­ing to speak. But she be­came more ag­gres­sive. She would have mas­sive melt­downs; tantrums don’t be­gin to de­scribe them. There was also a lack of eye con­tact and other strange things – she couldn’t stand the feel­ing of warm wa­ter on her body and she hated to be touched. I couldn’t un­der­stand what was go­ing on, and I won­dered if I was over­re­act­ing.

Fi­nally, when she was four, we saw a pae­di­a­tri­cian who hap­pened to spe­cialise in deaf and autis­tic kids. After about five min­utes, she said, “OK, there’s def­i­nitely some­thing go­ing on here.”

I think oth­ers had been think­ing some­thing was go­ing on with Amelia, but no-one wanted to be the one to say it. Peo­ple would rush to re­as­sure me she was “fine”. But I didn’t want peo­ple to make me feel bet­ter; I wanted them to help me find the an­swer. One per­son told me later they’d thought there was “ob­vi­ously some­thing wrong” when Amelia was about six months old. I don’t know how well I would’ve taken it at that point, but later, when I felt like I was scream­ing in peo­ple’s faces and felt like I was go­ing crazy, I wanted some­one to just tell me the truth. That was why I felt re­lief when Amelia was found to be autis­tic. Fi­nally, there was an ex­pla­na­tion.

Amelia loves the book I wrote about her – not that she can read it yet! She is an out­go­ing per­son, which is why she loves the at­ten­tion. She says, “We’re so fa­mous, Mum.” I just laugh. One day, when she re­alises I wrote about her toi­let train­ing, she might not be so im­pressed. Amelia & Me by Melinda Hilde­brandt (Agin­court Pub­lish­ing, $30) is out now.

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