I have a profoundly deaf child. My son is 11 years old and has bilateral cochlear implants, he received his first implant at age 4 and second at 5 and half. He was diagnosed late, even by the standards at the time, he was almost 2 and a half. Late diagnosis can have life long consequences and implications.
It certainly appears that audiologist services are under lockdown. In some Community Health Organisation areas audiologists are being redeployed to help deal with covid testing centres. Audiology is an essential and vital service for children and adults that need ongoing care with their hearing loss and hearing technology.
When hearing aids are fitted to a newly diagnosed individual they need ongoing monitoring to adjust the levels and frequencies that are right for them. This can take several appointments especially with young children as they can’t tell you what they are not hearing. The child also has to adjust to wearing hearing aids, this process can be slow but a very necessary process.
I cannot emphasize enough that time is of the essence when dealing with hearing loss, particularly in young children. For speech development, communication, auditory memory, learning to listen, social skills and much more. Over ninety percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. More often than not they are not equipped with ISL (Irish Sign Language). Those that do go on to learn, as we did for a time, are teaching as they are learning themselves.
Our son’s hearing gradually deteriorated, he had a severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss to begin with. His hearing levels were not ‘bad’ enough initially to meet the criteria needed to receive a cochlear implant but at the same time he wasn’t getting enough access to sound with his hearing aids to be able to speak.
In those early years we had a tsunami of appointments – vital audiology appointments included.When he was finally diagnosed, we were told ‘he got lost in the system’.
Audiologists being redeployed is totally baffling to me. There are no doubt, children like my son, now lost in the system and requiring urgent attention. A system now not even deemed essential. I can’t even begin to imagine going through what we did 8 years ago in today’s world.
To further worsen the situation, another vital service that many deaf children require is speech and language therapy, and guess what? Speech and Language therapists have also been redeployed in some areas. The Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists tweeted on September 3rd in relation to redeployment, “Disruptions are ongoing. Waiting times have increased. The continuity of SLT services has been affected by the continuing delivery of #COVID19 services with over half of all SLTs surveyed noting they had been redeployed.”
Masks, visors and screens throughout the country today make the world a seriously challenging place for deaf people to grapple with. But that’s not enough hardship, let’s also take away the services they require to help them live and function in a hearing world. This is discrimination. Our deaf children are being left behind without a second thought – and left behind even though the surge expected with Covid is long past.
I thought getting my son back to school in a more challenging learning environment was a big worry, actually it was and is a big worry. There has been zero guidance for schools and parents on dealing with deaf children in mainstream schools during this pandemic. If there is any guidance it is very well hidden. I was fortunate that I met with the teacher before school started and highlighted the issues that will impact my son. The teacher and resource teacher are being very creative to make sure his technology can still be used in class. I am aware that not everyone is in our situation though.
Throw all the current challenges of a classroom environment on top of a child who cannot get hearing aids adjusted or fitted for new molds (children can outgrow hearing aid molds as often as they outgrow footwear), no speech and language therapy. How could anyone thrive with those conditions? Many of whom are already trying to close gaps between themselves and their hearing peers, especially if you have a late diagnosis.
Deaf people are effectively being excluded from society. Service users and service providers are being devalued.
From my experience with my son I know how essential early intervention and ongoing monitoring is, with both Audiology and Speech and Language Therapy. These services can and do change people’s lives. We need to get those services back to normal.
Margaret Byrne lives in Wicklow