This coming Monday is a momentous one for thousands of Aussie five-year-olds – but for little Leo Henderson the first day of ‘Big School’ is a little more special than most.
Leo was born eight weeks premature and spent the first six weeks fighting for his life.
Doctors then had to break the news to his shell-shocked parents Danielle and David that Leo had moderate to severe hearing loss.
“We were really shaken – it was hard to see which path to take,” recalls David.
The answer eventually came in the form of The Shepherd Centre, a NSW-based not-for-profit organisation specialising in early intervention to help children with hearing loss develop spoken language skills.
The organisation, which has opened up a world of sound for more than 2000 children, is recognised as a world leader in the field of early intervention Auditory-Verbal Therapy, providing families with assistance to develop their child’s spoken language, so they can reach their full potential.
Leo began early intervention therapy at the centre at just four months of age. The organisation also helped guide the family through the decision to get Leo both cochlear implants.
“They helped us see what path we could take that would give him the same potential future as any other child,” adds David.
“The Shepherd Centre was completely right, as soon as he adjusted to the implant we saw a dramatic improvement in his speech and comprehension.”
Now a busy five-year-old, Leo can’t wait to join his big brother Max at the Italian Bilingual School in Sydney, and his parents are confident that with the preparations from The Shepherd Centre his is totally ready to join his hearing peers.
Leo is just one of 47 graduates about to start ‘Big School’, and Jim Hungerford, the centre’s chief executive officer, is proud to be able to witness their success.
He’s confident that these children will hit the ground running, most of whom now have speech and language skills on par with – and sometimes exceeding – those of their hearing classmates.
“The majority of this group of children were diagnosed with hearing loss shortly after they were born, and they’ve since received regular speech and language therapy from us – some with help from hearing devices such as cochlear implants – since they were just a few months old, adds Jim.
“So, for many of these families, they’ve really been preparing for the first day of school for almost their entire lives.”
Deafness is one of the most common disabilities diagnosed at birth, affecting one in 1,000 Australian babies born each year.
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, and to reach their full potential. More than 250 children will access this therapy at The Shepherd Centre in 2017.
To help The Shepherd Centre continue its life-changing programs for children and young people with hearing loss, visit www.shepherdcentre.org.au or call 1800 020 030.