Jan 2020 Brisbane Times

Renata Reis Souza was worried about the future of her son Rafael after he was diagnosed as completely deaf. Now, seven years later, he speaks two languages and thrives at a mainstream primary school. “I thought about all the missed opportunities and was really worried he wouldn’t be able to participate in society normally,” Ms Reis Souza said.

Rafael Reis SouzaBut she discovered there were a “world of solutions” at The Shepherd Centre - an early intervention centre for children who are hard of hearing. “It’s like the sky opened up. For the first time I thought there was hope,” she said. The breakthrough moment came when The Shepherd Centre informed the Reis Souzas that Rafael was a candidate for Cochlear implants, a surgically implanted device that stimulates the auditory nerve and provides a modified sense of sound.

Rafael is the eldest of three siblings, and all were born with hearing loss. Gabriel, 5, and Lucas, 1, received Cochlear implants at 6 months, following Rafael’s successful outcome. “You can see that something completely new is happening when they hear for the first time, it's surreal. They look a little confused, but you start to recognise a change in their eyes and facial expressions,” Ms Reis Souza said.

Reis Souza familyThe Reis Souza family have three children who were born with hearing loss. From left, Gabriel, 5, Luca, 10 months, mother Renata and Rafael, 7

When the Reis Souzas found out their second and third children were also born deaf, they admit thinking "wow, this will be a lot of work again", but they no longer felt scared. "We knew there was every possibility they could learn to speak and hear with technology and early intervention programs," she said.

Although Cochlear implants provided Ms Reis Souza’s three sons with access to sound, they still required ongoing training to sharpen their hearing and speech. The Shepherd Centre provided the three children with intensive speech and language sessions that led to significant improvements in sound recognition and speech clarity. “It was difficult for Rafael and Gabriel to initially sound out words and connect meanings to sounds, but now they do it as if it’s second nature,” Ms Reis Souza said.

Forty six children are graduating from The Shepherd Centre this year and entering mainstream primary schools. The Reis Souzas second son Gabriel is among the graduates, and will join his brother at school this week. A major fan of ‘show and tell’ during preschool, he once spoke about his cochlear implant, confident and proud of his journey.

“Many people don’t realise the remarkable future possible for people with hearing loss, but our graduates are setting these misconceptions straight as they head off to start their bright futures,” Dr Jim Hungerford, CEO of The Shepherd Centre said. According to a recent report, 62 per cent of children with hearing impairments who received early intervention graduate from university, significantly higher than the general population at 43.3 per cent.

Lily Rabold, a primary school teacher in NSW, said educators tailor their strategies to help hearing-impaired students. “Last year I had a student who was partially deaf. I always positioned him at the front, used closed captions on videos, wore a special microphone that distinctly transmitted sound into his hearing aids and had an itinerant teacher come in once a week for one on one communications skills,” she said.

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