New articles are published every month under the headings below.

Kiwi kid born deaf, now speaks three languages

Sept 2018 Otago Daily Times

Cochlear implants were a game-changer for a 4-year-old Kiwi who was born deaf and now speaks three languages. At four weeks old, Matthias Berndt was found to have severe hearing loss in both ears. At just 2, the youngster's only shot at hearing was to undergo a 4-hour surgery for cochlear implants.

The surgery was a success and nearly two years later not only can Matthias hear sounds, he can speak three languages: German, Mandarin and English.

The youngster has learned from his Chinese mother Inga Wang and German father Clemens Berndt who speak in their native tongues as well as in English.

Matthias BerndtAt home in Auckland, Matthias speaks Mandarin and German, and when he's at kindergarten or communicating with friends he speaks English.

Wang said Matthias was a very sociable kid and he so desperately wanted to join in on conversations, he was keen to learn all three languages.

"He can turn his implants on and off and sometimes if I'm talking to his brother he feels like he is missing out so he asks me to 'get his ears'."

She said he was very fluent but his hearing problems created challenges - something Wang's oldest son didn't have to cope with.

"He learns from listening but with Matthias he has to make an effort. At least once a week I have to sit down with him for over an hour for Mandarin reading time and he really has to concentrate," she said.

Berndt said being deaf doesn't have to restrict kids from living a normal life.

"Because Matthias was able to get cochlear implants, he no longer has to miss out."

Wang said Matthias turned to her after the operation and said "I can hear the birds" - and that brought a tear to her eye.

"High frequencies like the sound of birds were usually hard for someone with cochlear implants to pick up but he did."

Shepherd Centre set to move to Campbelltown

Aug 2018 Campbelltown Macarthur Advertiser

Hearing is something that most of us take for granted. For Camden child Elliott Grech, it can be an everyday battle. Elliott, 2, was born with moderate hearing loss and started wearing two hearing aids when she was just six-weeks-old. The Grech family have been supported by the Shepherd Centre as they continue to support Elliott with her condition. However the nearest centre in Casula is an hour-round trip away. Soon that driving time will be slashed significantly. The Shepherd Centre is inching closer to building a facility in Campbelltown.

The centre was founded in 1970 to teach children born deaf or hearing impaired how to develop their spoken language. Elliott’s father Brendon Grech said the centre had provided invaluable support and encouragement for his daughter. “Elliott has done amazingly well and her need [for help] has dropped off considerably,” he said.

grech family

Kye, Elliott and Brendon Grech relax in their Camden home

“Elliott needed early intervention at the Shepherd Centre and now she is speaking so well.

“My wife Kye and I were both carriers of the hearing loss gene, so Elliott was a one in four chance of being affected.”

The organisation announced the plans to build a centre locally in 2015 and organisers received a major boost the following year when Sargents Pies made a $950,000 donation. A block of land has been acquired in Moore Street, Campbelltown but close to $4 million needs to be raised before construction begins. The local centre will support families in the Campbelltown, Camden, Wollondilly and Southern Highlands. Mr Grech said the Campbelltown construction would benefit many local families. “I would recommend the Shepherd Centre to anyone who needs that would kind of support,” he said.

shepherd centreThe Shepherd Centre provides support for people who have hearing issues

Fundraising efforts will again ramp up next month when a dinner dance is held in Leumeah.

Macarthur’s Quota clubs have teamed up to organise the event at Wests Leagues Club. Ingleburn Quota club incumbent president Julie Percival said she was proud to fundraiser for the Shepherd Centre. Ms Pervival said Quota’s mandate included supporting people who were deaf or had hearing issues. “The Shepherd Centre does a great job working with babies and pre-school aged children to equip them to enter mainstream school,” she said.

Swinburne’s Get Talking App teaches hearing impaired infants to speak

Aug 2018 Swinburne University of Technology


Student testing a child’s interaction with characters providing a sense of fun

Researchers at Swinburne School of Design are developing an app that teaches hearing-impaired infants to speak. They are collaborating across disciplines to create this world-first digital learning tool. The idea for the app started with Swinburne Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications Dr Belinda Barnet, who developed a way to teach her own child to speak using standard early intervention paediatric speech pathology exercises.

“A great change has swept deaf culture in the last six years. The change is most dramatic among babies who are born profoundly deaf. These children no longer grow up learning to sign or attend deaf schools,” Dr Barnet explains. “They are detected by sophisticated equipment within days of birth, given cochlear implants before 12 months of age, and learn to talk. “Babies have a critical window to acquire fluent speech post implant and it starts to close after 12 months of age,” she says.

Dr Barnet along with Department Chair, Health and Medical Sciences, Rachel McDonald; Emeritus Professor Leon Sterling; Director of Swinburne Baby Lab, Associate Professor Jordy Kaufman; and School of Design Associate Professors Simone Taffe and Carolyn Barnes are collaborating on the project.

In 2016 Swinburne PhD student Caroline Tjung started working with the team in an investigation involving four digital app designs. Her research focuses on how to translate paper-based speech therapy programs and face-to-face therapy into the digital environment. This year research began as a Swinburne collaborative design program with sixteen Master of Design students and two speech therapists in four research groups and prototypes designed for a children’s speech app.

swinburne app

Students with parent and child working on ideas for the app

The apps feature stories and games requiring speech recognition with parents and children interacting and working together. They are designed as interactive teaching tools for hearing impaired infants from six months to three years.

Ms Tjung is investigating the role of design, languages and the number of words needed for the apps. Using mood boards that six-month-old babies to three-year-olds like to look at, she is researching how they translate to digital. She is using rhyming, stories and repetition, testing for entertainment and distraction values. She is working on four app designs to test in the Swinburne BabyLab. Based on her findings a prototype design will be developed by August 2019.

swinburne appOne of many app design layouts - Storyland with conceptual characters and worlds

Design has a pivotal role in steering through the complex formative stages. Visualising the process and prompting discussion through prototypes. The role of colour, rhyming, and repetition in storytelling and how they are activated in a digital environment is an essential element to the research. “We want to understand how to capture a baby’s attention. How much screen time a baby should have is a debatable issue and we are drawing on the Swinburne Babylab’s research and advice on this,” explains Ms Tjung.

How a kid with 'profound deafness' made it all the way to the Magpies

Aug 2018 The Roar

I fell in love with footy at a young age – my dad was a pretty mad keen supporter, so it was only natural to follow in his footsteps. Playing it at school, the challenge of competing against everyone, was really enjoyable, and, as a Geelong supporter, going down to Kardinia Park was a highlight. I always harboured the dream of playing AFL.  It’s a long journey to make it to the top level though and everyone has their different challenges. For me, there was one particular hurdle to jump over that not many others have had to face.

I was born with profound deafness. Basically what that means is that I was born without any hearing whatsoever. When you’re talking, I hear nothing. I require a cochlear implant to hear. I only have one, which is on my right side. It has made things a little different – I’ve probably had to display more resilience than other people – but it has been that way my whole life, so it’s all I really know. I can’t compare it to anything else.

It was a lot more noticeable in my early years and, as a kid, you look around and wonder why you are different, and what being different might mean. As I’ve grown older, I’ve got used to it. Honestly, the worst thing that happens these days is I might have to ask someone to repeat themselves.

People often see the funny side of it. They’ll go “Sam, I only had to call your name six times!” or something like that, and we share a laugh over it. It’s not something to take too seriously any more.

Part of the appeal in playing footy as a kid was the chance to prove to myself that I could pretty much do everything anyone else can. I played a few other sports too – tennis, cricket, basketball. I also did swimming but that didn’t work out too well. I was always finishing near the end, not because I was a slow swimmer, but because I couldn’t hear the starter gun!

I always dreamt of making it to the top level in footy and honestly never thought deafness would prevent me from getting there. It was something that was built into me at a very young age by my parents – they always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be, whether it was a footballer or a rocket scientist. I’m very thankful to them for instilling some mental strength and resilience in me. Because of that, I always backed myself to make it on my own merits and never saw my deafness as something that would hold me back in any facet of my life.


Sam McLarty is getting closer and closer to making his AFL dream a reality

It did provide challenges along the way. Obviously, footy is a very vocal sport and it’s not possible to rely on my teammates to tell me what to do, because I can’t hear them. When you’re learning footy it’s very see-ball-get-ball, but coming into the top level it’s been more of a challenge, and my ability to overcome that is something that’s still evolving. That forces me to rely on my eyesight a lot more, but that’s become a strength. My ability to read the ball in flight and pluck it out of the air, along with my competitiveness, is what got me drafted.

I had a lot of great support along the way from my school Yarra Valley Grammar and the Oakleigh Charger as well as my mates and family. They were fantastic, I can’t thank them enough. Dealing with many sceptics wasn’t something I ever really had to do – if they were out there, they never really told me. But drafting a player is an investment and I’m sure there were questions asked. Fortunately, Collingwood never saw my deafness as something that could jeopardise my career.

It was a similar case last year with Jaidyn Stephenson – who the club drafted despite concerns over a heart condition – and look how he is playing. It’s a credit to the professionalism of the club’s doctors. You do hear whispers before the draft but nothing is set in stone. Andy McGrath didn’t know he was going to go No.1 until the day, and if Andy doesn’t know then who does? In the end, it was a relief and – having had a bit of a shoulder injury during my draft year – it was a surprise to go at pick 30 in the end. I had family and friends around and it was an awesome night, a really special moment.

Being in and around Collingwood feels great. A lot of the boys are saying it’s as inclusive and fun as it’s ever been. The mood’s very positive here and the best part is that’s translating onto the field – it’s a great place to come to work every day. My dream of becoming an AFL player hasn’t been achieved just yet, but I’m so focused on getting that first game. When I do, I can’t wait to be wearing black and white.

Indigenous children's access to hearing aids on rise

July 2018 Canberra Times

Yinghara Hoolihan’s parents had a gut feeling something was wrong, with recurring ear infections, behavioural problems and speech problems. During a regular a visit to Canberra's Winnunga Aboriginal Health Service he had his ears tested through an Australian Hearing outreach clinic, finding he had undiagnosed hearing loss. Soon after, he was given hearing aids to wear and had surgery to put in grommets and remove his adenoids and tonsils.

Yinghara’s eyes lit up the first time he was fitted with his hearing aids. “What’s that mummy,” he would ask as a bird chirped or a car blew its horn. His speech, behaviour and even sleep improved dramatically.

Yinghara is one of an increasing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children whose lives have been improved by getting hearing help at an earlier age.

But according to Australian Hearing, there is more work to be done to reduce the significantly higher rates of hearing problems Indigenous Australians face compared to other Australians.

Jonelle and Yingara

Jonelle Hoolihan and son Yinghara Hoolihan 3.

Australian Hearing tracked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s hearing aid fitting data for the past 10 years. According to its research one in four Aboriginal children now receive their hearing aids before the age of five, a significant improvement from 2008 when only one in ten received them before the age of five. Acting Managing Director of Australian Hearing Kim Terrell said early access to sound was vital for children.

"The first three years is so important for learning language and learning to listen," he said. "Language connects the next generation to their family, communities and cultural stories, and sets children up for success, giving them the opportunity to reach their full potential."

YingaraYinghara Hoolihan 3 playing on the playground.

In 2017‑18 Australian Hearing provided help to more than 10,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and children. This was achieved through mainstream and outreach programs in more than 230 urban, regional and remote communities across Australia. The organisation has also launched a six-month trial of a tele-outreach service that provides a follow-up appointment with hearing impaired children in remote locations via video-chat after they are fitted with their first hearing aid.

Australian Hearing audiologist Samantha Harkus said the first few weeks with a hearing aid are critical. "It’s a time when extra support is needed,” she said.  “However, in remote communities there is usually less assistance available for families."

Ms Hoolihan is confident Yinghara, with his hearing on track, will now have the best opportunities to succeed in life and education. "For Aboriginal children, ear health problems are really quite high in his age group, for us getting on top of it early and before school has definitely benefited his wellbeing and development," she said.

Samoa trip an eye-opener for audiologist Ashish Prasher

July 2018 Newcastle Herald

Jesmond-based audiologist Ashish Prasher says a recent humanitarian mission in Samoa has confirmed his belief that Australians “are lucky to live in a country” that has affordable hearing healthcare. Mr Prasher travelled to the Pacific Island nation last month with another four audiologists as part of ‘Hear for Good’, an initiative from independent Australian hearing health provider National Hearing Care.

Research suggests Samoa is home to more than 4,000 people with untreated hearing loss, but according to National Hearing Care the nation has no qualified audiologists. “Hearing impairment is a serious health issue in Samoa,” Mr Prasher said. “Locals catch 6am ferries and patiently wait all-day just to consult with an audiologist.

Ashish Prasher

Ashish Prasher, left, during a hearing health care assessment in Samoa

Ashish Prasher




“In Australia, we often take easy access to affordable hearing healthcare for granted, so it’s been extremely rewarding to offer support and solutions to those who are hearing impaired and cannot access even a free check.” 

With the help of a local team, Mr Prasher and the ‘Hear for Good’ team conducted hearing tests, fitted hearing aids and educated users on hearing aid care and maintenance.  The team fitted more than 300 hearing impaired locals with free refurbished hearing aids. The aids were actually provided by everyday Australians who are clients of National Hearing Care. 

“Over the past few years, I have seen first-hand how hearing aids can change a person’s life, but seeing the impact for so many people at once was very powerful,” Mr Prasher said.  “I had the chance to help an 11-year old boy who found school and socialising difficult because he suffered from severe hearing loss. We fitted him with hearing aids, and It was an incredibly touching moment for the team. He cried tears of joy at being able to hear the world for the very first time.”

Mr Prasher, who is originally from India but now calls Newcastle home, says the experience was the first of its kind he has taken after nine years working as an audiologist.  “This was my first trip, but I’m looking forward to doing more trips in the future, I’ve heard of similar trips, but opportunities like these tend to be harder to find for audiologists compared to general doctors and nurses as the work is more specialised.”

Ashish in Samoa

The 34-year-old said it was his father who initially inspired him to work in the industry. He says Australians are lucky to have the hearing health care on offer.  “I love the work I do and find it fulfilling to be able to help clients improve their physical and mental health,” Mr Prasher said. 

“We are lucky to live in a country where free hearing checks are available to every Australian and can be easily accessed. “We encourage everyone over 50-years old to get their hearing checked annually. “I encourage all Newcastle residents to get a free hearing check at their local NHC clinic.”

Frankston Lions Club members help train hearing dog, Stanza, for new owner

June 2018 Herald Sun

STANZA wears his new orange collar with pride. A whippet cross, Stanza was presented with his collar to mark his graduation from training as an Australian Lions Hearing Dog. A helper and companion for local woman Dianne Wadsworth, Stanza was trained thanks to support from Frankston Lions Club. Members visited Ms Wadsworth’s house regularly to check that Stanza responded to a variety of sounds including the door bell, boiling kettle and smoke alarm.

Stanza“Australian Lions Hearing Dogs are trained to respond to a variety of sounds, generally around the home which they alert their owners to,” Lions member Julie Swan said.

“They hear the sound, locate the sound and then return to alert their owner by touching the owner with either one or two paws.”  Ms Wadsworth has a Cochlear implant to assist with hearing.

She initially had a hearing dog named George, who passed away, before Stanza came into her life.

“He is a very loveable dog and very cheeky. He makes me laugh a lot,” Ms Wadsworth said.

“He is also a very hard worker. He is good at responding to the sounds I need.” Ms Swan said Ms Wadsworth and Stanza shared a close bond. “He follows her everywhere,” she said.

Cochlear implants key to warding off depression in older Australians

May 2018 Joondalup Times News

The joy at hearing his grandchildren’s chatter and returning to easy conversations with his wife has seen John Holsgrove become an advocate for cochlear implants. The 66-year-old psychologist from Kingsley said because of his job, he was “well aware” that dementia became a higher risk if people were not able to hear well or at all. Recent research has identified hearing loss can contribute to dementia and cognitive decline, particularly in adults over the age of 55. “This risk factor isn’t something people are generally aware of but you’re cut off socially when you’re not hearing and that has a great affect on your health,” Mr Holsgrove said. “There’s a history of dementia and Alzheimer’s on my side of the family so I wanted to make sure I was doing everything I could to not go down that path.”

John Holsgrove

John Holsgrove with grandchildren Alyssa 8, Amy and Callum.

Mr Holsgrove was 55 when his wife first mentioned some concerns about his hearing.

“I first thought it was criticism for not listening,” he joked. “I didn’t really believe there was much wrong with my hearing but eventually I thought to keep her happy I’ll go and get tested. “Sure enough, I did have a hearing impairment that needed hearing aids.” However, he soon found the combination of his rapidly deteriorating hearing loss and his job as a child psychologist dealing with small high frequency voices wasn’t an ideal mix.

In 2015 his hearing loss was at a level that he qualified for a cochlear implant and he met with Ear Science Institute Australia director Marcus Atlas to schedule in the surgery. “Suddenly, I was connected again and most importantly, my wife and I could have conversations again,” he said.

“Talking with my family and hearing what my grandkids were saying was a very emotional experience for me.”

Ear Science Institute Australia chief executive Sandra Bellekom said Mr Holsgrove’s experience was a good example of how much a cochlear implant can improve a person’s life. “John was able to converse with his loved ones and return to much of his life as he knew it before his hearing loss and was also aware of the positive impact that regaining his hearing could have on his future mental health.” Last year, Mr Holsgrove had a second successful surgery for a cochlear implant in his other ear. He is now an advocate for the surgery, telling people who are battling hearing loss to seriously consider the social and health risks of not doing anything at all. “Being able to have conversations is so fundamental to your essential relationships,” he said. “Cochlear implants are a little miracle to me because I’m re-engaged with the world.”

Events Coming Up

28 Oct 2018;
10:30AM - 02:00PM
Illawarra Cochlear Implant Support Group
11 Nov 2018;
11:00AM - 03:00PM
Sunday BBQ - November AGM
20 Nov 2018;
06:30PM - 08:00PM
Preserving Residual Hearing Seminar

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Here is a link to Deafblindness support and information. They are based in Western Australia and supported by Senses Australia.

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