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How an early profound hearing loss diagnosis has changed the life of Queensland children like Alice

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Five-year-old Alice Salisbury loves ballet and singing, but talking is her favourite thing — all only possible through what she describes as her "superpower".

The prep student was diagnosed with a profound hearing loss in both ears as a baby and received cochlear implants a month after her first birthday.

After more than four years of intensive speech therapy and regular audiology appointments, Alice's mum Angelique describes her as a "sassy little thing who loves life and the joy of hearing".

"She loves to do little concerts, music concerts at home for us — loves anything to do with sound," Mrs Salisbury said.

Alice Salisbury stands smiling in a blue tutu, striking a pose.
Five-year-old Alice Salisbury loves to dance.(Supplied)

"Her vocabulary is really strong.

"She'll walk with my husband and she'll say: 'Daddy, my favourite thing to do is just talk.' That, in itself, is pretty amazing."

Alice has been brought up not to consider her cochlear implants as a sign of disability, but as a superpower.

"We want her to be proud of the fact that she is deaf."

Early detection key to developing speech

Alice, who attends Wondall Heights State School in Brisbane's east, is one of more than a million Queensland children who have undergone the newborn hearing screen since the program began in 2004.

In that time, the Children's Health Queensland program has identified more than 2,600 children as having a hearing loss.

A time baby sleeps with chords and contraptions attached to its head.
The hearing program has screened more than a million newborns. (Supplied: Children's Health Queensland)

Healthy Hearing program director Rachael Beswick said that by diagnosing hearing loss in the first few months of life, it allowed early intervention so that children are able to develop speech and language "commensurate with their peers".

Before universal newborn hearing screens began in Queensland, the average age of detection of permanent hearing loss in children was about 30 months of age.

Dr Beswick said about two in 1,000 children were born with a hearing impairment and by the time children entered school, another two per 1,000 had developed hearing problems.

An 'uncertain' and 'blessed' journey

In Alice's case, doctors found through her heel prick blood test, taken in the first few days of life, that she had been born with cytomegalovirus (CMV) — a known risk factor for hearing loss, which can deteriorate over time.

Her mother had unknowingly caught CMV while pregnant with her daughter.

Although the newborn hearing screen picked up a problem in Alice's right ear, the CMV resulted in progressive hearing loss in both ears.

But her cochlear implants have given her the gift of speech.

"It's been definitely a journey and an uncertain one at times but with the support of so many different people, we really feel blessed that Alice is in a really good position," Mrs Salisbury said.

"She's a bubbly, forthright little girl who will tell you exactly what's on her mind and loves to talk about her experiences."

The family, including Alice's father Jason and eight-year-old brother Harrison, plan to learn Australian sign language, Auslan, this year to be able to connect with all sections of the deaf world.

And in the school holidays Alice has plans to hear her favourite singer Elsa in Disney's Frozen the Musical at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre.

"It has really beautiful singing," she said.

Source: ABC

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