Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sounds of change for deaf students

Sounds of change for deaf students

When Elle Hessey starts kindergarten this week, few of her classmates will realise that she is profoundly deaf.

Her mum Carly said Elle chats away happily and has no trouble communicating, thanks to her cochlear implants.

"She never stops talking," she said.

"Most people don't even notice because she doesn't think there's anything different about her, (so) nobody else notices it."

When Elle was a baby, Ms Hessey thought her daughter would not be able to go to the same mainstream public school her other children attended.

"(The Shepherd Centre) assured us she would go to a mainstream school, which was hard to believe at the time," she said.

But this week, five-year-old Elle will start school at Thirlmere Public School, after years of therapy at The Shepherd Centre at Wollongong.

New research released by the centre, which helps deaf and hearing impaired children, shows Elle's case is not unique.

According to the data, most hearing impaired children can expect to perform just as well at language development in a mainstream school as their non-hearing impaired peers.

"Her speech is really good," Ms Hessey said of her daughter.

"She's very excited to go to school, all she does is talk about her teacher."

Preliminary data from The Shepherd Centre showed that 80 per cent of hearing impaired children who graduated from the centre to a mainstream school would score in the normal range for vocabulary.

And 69 per cent would score in the normal range for language as they entered school.

About 84 per cent of the general population of children would be in the normal range for language and vocabulary skills.

The study came from a sample of 41 students from the centre who were diagnosed with a hearing impairment at birth and started kindy in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Acting director of the clinical program at The Shepherd Centre, Aleisha Davis, said the similarity between the scores for hearing impaired children and mainstream kids would have been unheard of 10 years ago.

Just integrating a hearing impaired child into a mainstream school was seen as a major achievement at that time.

In many cases, hearing impaired children over a decade ago would have had very poor communication skills, she said.