It’s hard to believe that Hear and Say, a not-for-profit organisation which teaches deaf young people to listen and speak, was kicked off nearly 21 years ago. Back then, founder Dr Dimity Dornan had six kids on her books.

The program now provides help to more than 500 children, in six centres across Queensland, and an outreach program for rural and remote areas. Their goal: help hearing-impaired kids to hear, listen and speak so they’ll one day be able to attend their local school, expand their career hopes and integrate into the wider community.

Working with the latest in technology – such as digital hearing aids and cochlear implants – together with unique programs that involve parents directly in the teaching process, Dr Dornan’s team have pioneered powerful new ways to unlock early learning in deaf kids. Hear and Say continue to change the course of the lives of countless other young people with hearing loss.

It’s the inspiring work that Hear and Say do which prompted Coca-Cola Australian Foundation to award the organisation with a grant to fund a progressive new program called STAR. Standing for “Solutions Through Adventure and Recreation”, it’s a social skills program for deaf adolescents. “STAR is designed to provide some of our hearing-impaired teens with a safe environment for learning experiences, and to help them explore and share their feelings,” Dr Dornan says.

Hear and Say aims to make these learning experiences fun. “We take them to participate in adventure activities, such as rock climbing, rope courses, and other challenges, which require them to work together in a practical ways,” she elaborates. “What we’ve seen is that they develop a real bond with one another, which, in the long term, becomes an important support network for them all.”

One happy girl

One particularly fulfilling example of how Hear and Say has made a difference, says Clinical Director Emma Rushbrooke, is the story of baby Zoe. “Zoe was born with severe-profound hearing loss, so her parents enrolled her at our Brisbane centre, where her older brother Joshua who has the same condition is already receiving therapy.”

Emma goes on. “On July 5, 2012, Zoe underwent surgery to receive cochlear implants – and 15 days later, her implants were switched on. That was the moment Zoe heard her parents speak for the very first time – her dad said, ‘Zoe’, and she turned her head and smiled. It was a very beautiful, moving moment.

“Since her enrolment, Zoe has been eager to learn – she now easily engages in Peek-a-Boo and finger games, laughing, vocalising and making eye contact to keep it going. At her brother Josh’s recent language assessment, he was placed two years ahead of children with normal hearing the same age! We have the same goals for Zoe,” she says proudly, adding that both children can now look forward to graduating from Hear and Say’s Early Intervention program into mainstream education at school-entry age.

A sound future

Hear and Say is ushering in a new generation of deaf children, a generation that listens and speaks just like their naturally hearing peers Tamara explains. “Clear natural spoken language is a genuine possibility for children born deaf in 2013 because their auditory verbal brains can be accessed, activated and stimulated early with modern hearing devices, and through their parents being trained to provide an enriched auditory environment. Our goal at Hear and Say is to make this a reality and give these children the best for their future.”

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