March 2017 dailytelegraph.com.au and southern courier

Jim Hungerford, chief executive of the Shepherd Centre, said it was important for profound hearing loss to be picked up early and the Shepherd Centre worked with babies just a few months old who were fitted with cochlear implants and had one-hour weekly sessions to develop their communication skills. Randwick mum Renata Reis’ boys Rafael, 4, and Gabriel, 23 months, were both born with profound hearing loss, had cochlear implants at 5 ½ months and early intervention therapy at the Shepherd Centre. “The Shepherd Centre were very supportive,” Ms Reis said. “They enabled us to teach our children to listen and speak.” Rafael is now fluent in English and Portuguese and started school this year on the same footing as his peers.

Jim HungerfordHowever, Mr Hungerford said the National Disability Insurance Scheme threatened to rip funding out of early intervention programs run by the Shepherd Centre that could directly impact on babies and toddlers with hearing loss. He said funding for most support services for children with severe intellectual or developmental delays would still be provided. “But from the age of one to three, we really do not know (how severe hearing loss is) as they do not talk properly and it’s not showing. Therefore the government will not be providing the funding.”  He said the program cost $18,000 a year per child for the first five years of their life but funding for the scheme would be lost under the Federal Government’s NDIS model. This shortfall would need to be made up by fundraising efforts to keep the vital services going.

When Coogee’s Rosie Gallen was born, doctors said she was happy and healthy with no medical problems but after she did respond to sound in the same way as her two older sisters, a specialist diagnosed her with profound hearing loss. Her distraught parents were told she would never speak and only be able to communicate through sign language.

rosie gallenRosie Gallen wants children with hearing impairment to be able to access the same early intervention therapy support service she did. 

But thanks to the Shepherd Centre, Rosie, now 24, was fitted with hearing aids and then cochlear implants, was taught how to speak and learned social and developmental skills. This gave her the confidence to go to a mainstream school, complete an interior design qualification and secure freelance work. “Early intervention gives you skills and whatever else you need to try to adapt to society. That involves putting in the hard work ourselves.”

Mr Hungerford said early intervention programs allowed children to start school on the same level as their peers with normal hearing and they often went on to accomplish great things. New research showed that three out of five people with a hearing impairment who received early intervention went on to achieve a tertiary level qualification compared to only two in five of the general population. “It is important to ensure that we are setting deaf and hearing-impaired children up for lifelong success by providing access to early intervention support services,” Mr Hungerford said. “This is something we are unsure will be provided in the current and future funding arrangements.”