Dec 2018 The Hearing Hub

At just eight years old, bilateral cochlear implant recipient, Henry, has received support from RIDBC across regions, time zones, and even continents. Henry loves sports, from soccer to martial arts, swimming, and diving, if it involves movement, he'll give it a go.   Henry was born in Dubai, where the family were living at the time; an experience Sarah says was fantastic for the family, but when it came to exploring support options for Henry's hearing loss, her first instinct was to come back to Australia and RIDBC. "We didn’t have experience with hearing loss, but we knew there were technologies and support available, so we quickly decided that going back to Australia was the right move," Sarah says. The team at RIDBC quickly identified that Henry would benefit from bilateral implants, and after talking through options, Henry's parents decided that this was the right choice for him. "Henry was eleven months when he had the surgery and we were keen to make up for his first year without hearing by introducing him to a range of sound as soon as possible," says Sarah. The family were still living in Dubai and flew between Australia and their home regularly for appointments, but when it came time for the surgery they made a base in Sydney for three months, so that RIDBC could provide them with post-implementation support.  These early intervention services set Henry on the right track to achieve outcomes on his return to Dubai.

Henry

Henry's older sister, Imogen, attended the VisionEd Preschool at RIDBC while Henry was having his post-surgery care, so that she wouldn’t miss out on this learning milestone. "Imogen's time at the VisionEd preschool was fantastic – she loved it and we did too.  Although being vision impaired, the children had different needs to Henry, it gave her more of an understanding of children with diverse learning and social needs from the outset," Sarah explains.

When the family returned home to Dubai, they continued to receive support from RIDBC Teleschool.  "The Teleschool team were fantastic. We couldn’t access programs like that locally in Dubai, and they made it easy despite the distance.  They supported us with technical difficulties and the time zone was never a problem.  It was great having support from home while we were living overseas."

Henry's RIDBC Teleschool Teacher, Helen Tomlinson, says that while the distance did present some challenges, the combination of Sarah's hard work and Teleschool support enabled Henry to thrive.

"There are three key challenges when working with children overseas," says Helen, who has worked with Australian children living across the Middle East. "One is obviously time zone, but we are happy to work outside of hours to make that work for the family.  Another is technology, we can't send our video conferencing units overseas, so we use Skype. The third one is a lack of knowledge about the facilities and support a child can access locally – unfortunately there wasn't a lot," she explains.

Helen and Sarah worked together to develop tailored lesson plans that made use of the materials, books, and toys Sarah had at home in Dubai. "We worked a lot on language structure – this can be difficult for any child to pick up, but the challenge can be exacerbated for children with hearing loss.  Language structure is absorbed, and babies start picking it up in the first year.  For children like Henry, who couldn't hear for their first year, this can be slightly delayed. Sarah worked so hard and closely with us at Teleschool that together we were able to achieve some great outcomes for Henry."

One challenge with Henry's cochlear implants was keeping them on. "Henry was crawling and he was forever knocking them off.  I was told he needed to be wearing them every waking hour, and I wanted the best outcome, so I was keen to make sure this happened," Sarah recalls. Looking for a quick fix until she found a more permanent solution, Sarah grabbed one of her daughter's soft headbands and used it to cover the implants.  She quickly realised, with a few small modifications, the headband could prove a long-term solution. Sarah initially made a headband for Henry, but with the hearing loss community being so tight-knit, other parents would ask her "where did you get that?"  From these humble beginnings, the hearinghenry headband was born.  Through word of mouth alone, Sarah has gone on to sell nearly 20,000 of her Australian-made headbands.

When the family moved back to Australia, they settled in Port Macquarie on the Mid-North Coast of NSW, where they continued to access RIDBC services, through residential camps and the local state-of-the-art RIDBC centre.

Hhenry and Sarah Henry with Mum Sarah

Although no longer requiring Teleschool sessions on a regular basis, Henry recently attended a residential camp at the North Rocks campus in Sydney. "This was Henry's second camp, but he was only four at the last one, so he doesn’t really remember. I felt like that one was about supporting me given his young age. This time, the experience was really about Henry.  He loved connecting with other kids with cochlear implants, so that he could share experiences with them and didn’t have to explain his situation," Sarah says. Henry will also be a regular for implant mapping at the newly-refurbished RIDBC Centre in Port Macquarie, something Sarah says will have a big impact on her family.  "Without this local centre, we would be travelling to Newcastle (a six hour round trip), with four children in tow," Sarah says. "This local centre means Henry can go to school as normal in the morning and have his mapping in the afternoon – without disrupting his life."

Henry is kicking goals, on and off the soccer pitch, and Sarah says the key for her family lay within having the same expectations for Henry as they do all their children.  "From a young age, we told Henry he could do whatever he wanted to do and had high expectations for him.  If there is an opportunity for him to participate in an activity we encourage him to do it, and if it takes a little modification, we find a way to make it work. I hope we have given him the confidence to do anything he wants and believe that he should never let his hearing loss hold him back.”

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