Nov 2020 Tasmania Examiner
Sky's the limit: Kings Meadows resident Eli Unwin shows off the graduation medal he received after completing the Shepherd Centre Auditory-Verbal Therapy program
Five-year-old Eli Unwin was born profoundly deaf, and if not for a stroke of luck and the work of an organisation supporting children born deaf and hearing impaired, he may never have heard or said anything. After going through the public system to find a way to help Kings Meadows local Eli, his parents Rebecca and Bruce Unwin were left at their wits end when still at nine months old he was still hardly any closer to hearing. Without aid, he could only hear noises over 120 decibels, the equivalent to the sound of a jet engine, and with hearing aids his situation only slightly improved.
It was not until a former colleague of Ms Unwin learnt of the Shepherd Centre - and the support the offer children in Eli's position - that Eli was finally able to receive Cochlear implants. "After a bit of a run around in the public system we got onto the Shepherd Centre ... that was just a turning point in our journey," Ms Unwin said. "It was a breath of fresh air to see the other side, and to see these children talking clearly, and if you couldn't see their [hearing] devices you wouldn't even know they were deaf.” Within three weeks of being linked with the Shepherd Centre Eli had surgery to implant his Cochlear implants.
Eli was also diagnosed with autism at a young age, and as a result is still primarily non-verbal, but thanks to his implants Ms Unwin has been told he will eventually develop typical conversational skills. "We mainly have to use sign with Eli, but we have been reassured that it is more autism related that he doesn't talk, and we believe that," she said. "Through the Shepherd Centre, we have seen neo-typical children with Cochlear implants speaking fluently. That gives us the reassurance that Eli's communication isn't a normal deaf thing.” Ms Unwin said Eli had been able to attend kindergarten at a mainstream school which has contributed to his development. "He's been able to follow what is 'society's normal'," she said. Just over four years later and Eli has graduated from a program designed to support him as he transitions from kindergarten to Norwood Primary School in 2021.
Going forward Ms Unwin is confident Eli will be able to do whatever it is he sets his mind to. "Our main goal is for Eli to lives as normal a life as he possibly can," she said. "We've been doing a lot of early intervention for him to get on par with his peers so that in the long run he will be kicking goals. He could be a doctor, he could be whatever he likes.” While Ms Unwin was not entirely sure what exactly the future had in store for Eli, she mentioned that he had a bit of an endearing propensity for feet and pondering on the possibility that he may one day become a podiatrist.
Eli's audiologist Dr Kate Wilson said children like Eli living in Tasmania have limited opportunities compared to other states. "Access to specialised speech and language therapy for kids with hearing loss is not available so we are filling that gap in person and through tele-interventions," she said. Dr Wilson said due to intervention programs and Cochlear implants Eli had the potential to develop hearing and speech at the same level of the typical person. "The Shepherd Centre graduates typically develop with the same speech and language outcomes as their typical hearing peers. It means that they can go onto a mainstream school, they can go to a school with their brothers and sisters. "We fully expect them to graduate year 12 and go onto university or whatever they want to do and, with support, their hearing loss doesn't need to stop them from achieving their dreams and their goals."