The families of 43 deaf and hearing impaired students from across NSW, ACT and TAS will be celebrating a major milestone this month. These bright young students will celebrate their graduation from The Shepherd Centre, having completed the organisation's world leading Auditory-Verbal Therapy program at one of the five Centres. They are excited to head off to 'big school" next year – often with language skills on par, and in many instances, even ahead of their hearing peers.
Deafness is one of the most common disabilities diagnosed at birth, affecting one in 1,000 Australian babies born each year. Many people don't realise that it costs almost $20,000 per year to provide the essential early intervention therapy needed to help just one deaf child learn to listen and speak.
The Shepherd Centre has an extraordinary track record when it comes to giving deaf children access to sound and speech, with the majority of the centre's graduates heading to mainstream schools with outstanding communication skills.
Jim Hungerford, CEO of The Shepherd Centre, said the organisation is thrilled to see so many students setting off to achieve their dreams, something all children deserve regardless of disability.
'Many people don't realise that deaf and hearing impaired children can have such a bright future. Our graduates have outstanding speech, listening and language skills and are living proof of the power of early intervention support. These children and their families have overcome many obstacles and we are excited to celebrate their accomplishments. We look forward to seeing what they achieve well into the future," said Mr Hungerford.
A recent report showed around three in five (62%) children with a hearing impairment who receive early intervention go on to achieve a tertiary level qualification. This compares to only two in five (43.3%) of the general population.
Parents who suspect their child may have hearing loss should seek professional help as soon as possible. A short quiz for parents is available online at www.shepherdcentre.org.au/hearingquiz.
Question: What is The Shepherd Centre?
Dr Jim Hungerford: The Shepherd Centre is a NSW-based not-for-profit organisation specialising in early intervention to support children who are deaf or hearing impaired develop hearing and spoken language skills. Deafness is the most common childhood disability in the western world. One in every 1,000 Australian babies is born deaf and this can be quite a shock as 92% of deaf children are born to two hearing parents.
Since its foundation, The Shepherd Centre has opened up a world of sound for more than 2,000 children who are deaf or hearing impaired. The organisation is recognised as a world leader in the field of Listening and Spoken Language early intervention, providing families in NSW, ACT and Tasmania with assistance to develop their child's speech, so they can reach their full potential.
Question: Can you talk about the milestone you're celebrating, this month?
Dr Jim Hungerford: We are really proud because this year, 43 of our students are celebrating their graduation having completed our world leading Auditory-Verbal Therapy program at one of the five Centres. These graduates are now excited to head off to -big school' next year – often with language skills on par, and in many instances, even ahead of their hearing peers.
Question: Are you able to explain the process of graduating from The Shepherd Centre?
Dr Jim Hungerford: In many cases, these children have spent multiple years attending regular Auditory-Verbal Therapy (AVT) sessions at The Shepherd Centre. These sessions focus on teaching both the child and their parents the tools needed to develop sound and speech skills. Having completed The Shepherd Centre's world leading AVT program, these children are -graduating' with outstanding speech, listening and language skills – often on par or above their normal hearing peers. They are living proof of the power of early intervention support. They have overcome many obstacles and we are excited to celebrate their accomplishments with a special graduation ceremony and celebration at each of our five Centres.
Question: What is involved in the Auditory-Verbal Therapy program?
Dr Jim Hungerford: The Shepherd Centre's Auditory-Verbal Therapy (AVT) program involves regular one-on-one sessions with one of our Listening & Spoken Language Specialists. We also offer many workshops, group sessions and seminars for children and their families.
Our trained therapists guide students through sessions which are structured and often play-based in order to reach goals that have been identified and directed by the family. The sessions focus on teaching skills in the areas of listening, speech, language and cognition.
Question: How have these students benefitted from this program and what's next, for them?
Dr Jim Hungerford: The programs and services offered by The Shepherd Centre are integrated to maximise their listening, speech, language and social development, and help them reach their full potential.
It is important to ensure that we are setting deaf and hearing impaired children up for lifelong success by providing access to these crucial early intervention support services.
We have evidence highlighting the increased productivity and achievements of our graduates not just as they enter primary schools but far into adulthood as well. Research shows children receiving early intervention support mature into productive members of society with high levels of education, social participation and full time employment, in spite of their hearing loss.
A recent report showed around three in five (62%) children with a hearing impairment who receive early intervention go on to achieve a tertiary level qualification. This compares to only two in five (43.3%) of the general population 1.
Key results of First Voice Graduate Outcomes report1:
95% of those receiving early intervention attended a mainstream high school
86% completed Year 12
62% achieved a tertiary level qualification
77% have been in regular paid employment for a period of 6 months or more
Question: How can Australians support The Shepherd Centre?
Dr Jim Hungerford: Many people don't realise it costs nearly $20,000 per child per year to provide these services. The Shepherd Centre relies heavily upon fundraising and donations to support more than 470 Australian families who turn to them for help each year.
Unfortunately, we know that for every Australian child receiving early intervention services, another child with hearing loss is missing out. We are aiming to close this gap. Funds raised by The Shepherd Centre help give deaf and hearing impaired children access to critical therapy support to help them learn to listen and speak, and to reach their full potential in the classroom – and in life. For more information or to make a donation, please visit www.shepherdcentre.org.au
Question: What's a typical day like, for you at The Shepherd Centre?
Dr Jim Hungerford: My day normally starts around 6:30am checking emails before I ride my motorbike through the Sydney traffic. At the Newtown offices around 8am I greet the team who are already there (we've many early risers!) and then catch up with anything that's happening at the time.
From then on the day is very varied. The days I love most are where I'll be meeting with families or with our fantastic supporters, talking about our plans and learning about their situation. If I'm lucky this will include saying -hi' to the beautiful babies or toddlers who are just starting their journey with The Shepherd Centre!
Other days are filled with meetings with my team. Even though we're a small charity we strive to learn the best from around the world to improve how we help our children. We may be having discussions planning how to develop some of our in-house clinical approaches so they can be delivered online for use around the world; discussing how to automate our systems to reduce the time on necessary administration; or reviewing the progress we've made over the last few months and working out how to do it better next time.
Over the last few years an increasing amount of my time has been dealing with the politicians and government officials involved with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS offers the potential for a wonderful future for children with hearing loss, but in the Government's focus on ensuring it is financially sustainable they've ignored the fact that early investment into children with hearing loss pays off hugely in future – when those children grow into adults able to achieve their potential in life through their listening and language skills. Despite the ongoing frustration, I am encouraged by the individual politicians and officials I meet who are also clearly passionate about making this future possible!
Depending on where I've been, my day may flow into an evening meeting or discussion; or end up with trying to get on top of the emails that have built up during the day. Either way I'll be looking forward to heading home and seeing my beautiful wife; or maybe our daughter who may be visiting. I'm very lucky that almost always I'll end the day feeling blessed to be working with a fantastic group of colleagues that bring the hope and reality of a positive future to families who, before they came to us, may have been deep in grief worrying about the future for their children. I really do have the best job in the world.
Question: What's next for The Shepherd Centre?
Dr Jim Hungerford: We are excited to be expanding our Teleintervention program to help support more children in regional and remote areas. We will be opening a new centre in Campbelltown in South-West Sydney in the near future and also look forward to seeing our new graduates start big school in 2018.
Every child deserves the chance to reach their full potential regardless of disability. Our aim is to support as many Australian families as possible and the kindness and benevolence of our donors help make this a reality for children with hearing loss.
We recently launched our Christmas appeal urging Australians to remember the needs of deaf and hearing impaired children when planning their end of year donations. Three year old Charlie was born with hearing loss and is the face of the 2017 campaign. Charlie has been able to thrive with the help of cochlear implants and support from The Shepherd Centre. We encourage Australians to help support children like Charlie and The Shepherd Centre at: http://shepherdcentre.org.au/supporting-us/this-christmas-give-a-gift-that-is-music-to-a-childs-ears/
References: First Voice Report on Education, Employment and Social Outcomes of First Voice Member Centre Graduates (18-28 years). 2017 Available here: http://shepherdcentre.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/First-Voice-Graduate-Outcomes-Report-2017.pdf. Interview by Brooke Hunter