Cochlear im­plants open up the world

There’s more to hear­ing than just a flick of a switch for hear­ing-im­paired chil­dren. Re­porter Jess Lee sat in on an au­di­to­ryver­bal ther­apy ses­sion to see the work that goes on be­hind the scenes, in the lead-up to this year’s Loud Shirt Day.

Auckland City Harbour News - - FRONT PAGE -

WILL my child be OK?

That’s the first ques­tion an anx­ious par­ent asks au­di­to­ryver­bal ther­a­pist Ly­dia O’Con­nor af­ter learn­ing their baby has a hear­ing im­pair­ment.

Fast-for­ward four years and that child will be start­ing school, most likely with speech and lan­guage skills on a par with their hear­ing peers.

But it is a long jour­ney to get to that point.

Ther­a­pists at The Hear­ing House in Green­lane work along­side families of deaf and hear­ing-im­paired chil­dren to teach them to lis­ten and speak.

About 93 per cent of deaf chil­dren who grad­u­ate from The Hear­ing House will go to main­stream schools.

The par­ents of 4-year-old Fin­ley Tu­taka-Brown ex­pected the worst when they dis­cov­ered she was pro­foundly deaf, her mother Kerri says.

The Mt Al­bert fam­ily con­sid­ered the op­tions for Fin­ley and de­cided cochlear im­plants were the right choice ( Auck­land City Har­bour News, Septem­ber 9).

A cochlear im­plant is a sur­gi­cally im­planted elec­tronic de­vice that pro­vides a sense of sound to a per­son who is se­verely hard of hear­ing or pro­foundly deaf.

‘‘When we first started [ther­apy ses­sions] we were over­whelmed and kind of won­der­ing how she would end up,’’ Kerri says.

‘‘We’re to­tally blown away by how well she’s done – it’s bet­ter than we could have hoped for.’’

Fin­ley has at­tended weekly au­di­tory-ver­bal ther­apy ses­sions since she was a baby and her speech and lan­guage should be top-notch by the time she starts school in Oc­to­ber.

O’Con­nor says it is the chil­dren’s families putting in the hard yards out­side of ther­apy that makes the big­gest dif­fer­ence to their devel­op­ment.

This can mean nar­rat­ing a trip to the su­per­mar­ket, work­ing dif­fer­ent word groups into ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tions, singing and main­tain­ing nor­mal in­ter­ac­tion.

‘‘One of the main pri­or­i­ties of au­di­tory-ver­bal ther­apy is coach­ing the par­ents,’’ O’Con­nor says.

‘‘Some par­ents may be think­ing ‘oh my child’s deaf, they can’t hear me’ and stop talk­ing to them al­to­gether.

‘‘Even though your baby is pro­foundly deaf there is still a chance that the au­di­tory nerve is still pick­ing up a lit­tle bit of sound.’’

Ther­apy can start as soon as hear­ing loss is di­ag­nosed through new­born screen­ing.

There were no other or­gan­i­sa­tions teach­ing spo­ken lan­guage to deaf chil­dren when The Hear­ing House formed in 1998.

O’Con­nor says the ther­apy does not un­der­mine sign lan­guage which re­mains an op­tion for par­ents and is also an al­ter­na­tive when im­plants aren’t effective.

‘‘There are peo­ple in the deaf com­mu­nity who per­haps don’t be­lieve in what we do but we are big about parental choice – we never force down a par­ent’s throat.’’

Most chil­dren who visit The Hear­ing House have hear­ing par­ents, she says.

‘‘Of­ten for par­ents their deaf baby is the first deaf per­son they’ve met in their life.’’

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