It comes as new data from First Voice reveals 94 per cent of Australians are unaware it's possible for children born deaf to learn to listen and speak as well as children with typical hearing.
Not-for-profit Hear and Say chief executive Chris McCarthy said it was sobering that most Australians did not realise potential outcomes if their children got the right diagnosis, technology and specialised speech therapy. "We're seeing amazing outcomes for children with hearing loss," he said. "Children that are going through our program have got clear, natural spoken language and I would challenge people that didn't know they have a hearing loss to pick it up."
Zia Dredge has first cochlear implant switched on
Ms Dredge said there were no signs in her pregnancy and no family history of hearing loss, but Zia's hearing loss was identified in the Healthy Hearing screening for all newborn babies in Queensland. "We basically went home from hospital distraught," she said.
But within a week, the families of Ms Dredge and husband Steve had "rallied" around them, with her sister, through research online, connecting them with not-for-profit Hear and Say. The parents started speech and language therapy for Zia when she was 10 weeks old, which they would continue with weekly sessions. Zia received hearing aids at 10 weeks and at eight months she underwent surgery for a cochlear implant and was "switched on".
"It was one of the best days of our lives," Ms Dredge said. "I think most of us are used to the YouTube videos of young children with big bright smiles on their faces as they get switched on, most babies or children might only respond by pausing movements, raising eyebrows, it can be a subtle reaction, and that's what got from Zia. "Her body stilled and she turned her head and it was a clear sign to all of us in the room that it [the beeping sound] was enough for her to go, 'Wait a minute, what was that?’ "The best part, after the switch on … my husband decided he would test out the cochlear implant and see what she would do, so he stood on the opposite side of the room about three or four metres away and whispered her name and she turned and smiled at him. "We both burst into tears with relief that it had been worth it to put our daughter through surgery and to know that the device worked."
Eight-month-old Zia hears her father say her name for the first time
With weekly speech therapy Zia quickly caught up to her peers and by the time she was 18 months old her listening and speech skills were on par, overtaking them when she was two-and-a-half, Ms Dredge said.
The Brisbane parents later decided they would have a second child knowing there was a risk that child could also have hearing loss — still not knowing what caused Zia's — but confident in the outcomes they had seen with Zia. "[Zia] loves school, she does very well at it, she's got lovely friends, she loves swimming, she loves computer games, she loves singing and dancing and her biggest passion in life is books," she said.
When Zia was in prep, she woke one morning and went to her mother and said: "Mum, I know I'm talking because I can feel my throat move but I can't hear myself.” "Without wearing her devices, she could speak and she could hear her own voice, but one morning she woke up and couldn't hear herself anymore," Ms Dredge said. After months of testing, Zia had another cochlear implant and switch on and further speech and language therapy. "From then life has gone back to normal, she is a normal healthy happy kid," Ms Dredge said.
Zia, now nine, said hearing loss hadn't held her back because of the family and friends around her.
"I want other people to know that having hearing loss doesn't put you back. I'm a living example of that," she said. "I also want kids not to get down because they're different, because I know something like that shouldn't stop people from doing what they want."
Zia Dredge, 4-years-old says listening with cochlear implant and hearing aid is her favourite thing
Ms Dredge said she wanted parents to know there was help if their child had hearing loss."I was guilty of this too — the perception of hearing loss hasn't kept up with the times," she said. "There's amazing technological assistance available to people with hearing loss — hearing aids or cochlear implants — and thanks to science, those things are getting better every day. "Zia's life is so normal that we barely have to make any changes to our lifestyle, our goals for her, her goals for herself."
Zia addresses a First Voice Power of Speech event at Parliament House, Canberra, in 2019
Healthy Hearing program director Rachel Beswick said about 60,000 Queensland babies were screened each year. "The family support service also supports families once the diagnosis has been received, helps them through the medical clinics, helps the families navigate the NDIS and help them engage in an early intervention centre," she said. "Having hearing loss is not limiting, there are many supports available, lots of community support and technology that can help all children with hearing loss."
A Federal Health Department spokesperson said this Hearing Awareness Week reminded Australians to protect their ears and hearing health, be aware of the risks such as loud noises, and seek support and treatments early. "Hearing loss in young children can directly impact their development if left untreated," the spokesperson said. "It is especially important for parents of young children who suspect that their child may have hearing problems to seek professional advice either through their general practitioner or by contacting Hearing Australia.”