Alice Brennan joined Deaf Children Australia to help promote our Safe and CommuniCate resources and build understanding of how these programs can assist infants, children and young people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Alice has now become a Family Support Worker for DCA. She has an Honours in Psychology and a wealth of personal experience of deafness. Alice is a great role model for children and young people to show how you can fulfil your potential and realise your dreams. She is happy to share some of her story:
“They don’t know what caused my hearing loss.”
“I was diagnosed with a mild hearing loss at eighteen months of age and from that time, it kept on deteriorating. They don’t know what caused my hearing loss so they couldn’t work out why my hearing was deteriorating and they couldn’t do anything about it. The genetic tests I have done can’t identify any cause. I come from a hearing family and there is no one in my family background with a hearing loss. I also have balance problems which could have a relationship with my hearing loss but it is impossible to say.
When I was around four, I was assessed for a cochlear implant. My hearing loss didn’t meet the eligibility criteria they had at the time but at the age of ten, I got an implant. It made a huge difference in my life. There were sounds that I hadn’t heard before that I was able to hear for the first time. My speech improved and it was a lot less frustrating having stable hearing. Before that, every time I had learned something or my speech progressed, my hearing would deteriorate and I would go backwards again.
Three years ago, I got another implant in my left ear. I don’t have the same hearing in my left ear as I didn’t hear anything from that ear for 11 years and my brain needs to get used to it but it is very helpful having the second implant. I feel I can hear more, especially when sounds are coming from my left side.
“I had a lot of support growing up.”
My family have always been fantastic at supporting me. I was the baby in the family and my brother and sister would help me a tremendous amount. On holidays at the beach, my sister would be my interpreter and always made sure I was involved. I never felt I was different. I had a lot of intervention when I was young too and my whole family helped to aid that.
I went to Holy Trinity Primary School and was supported by St Mary’s Teachers of the Deaf there. I was also supported by St Mary’s at Aquinas College. So I was in mainstream schools but had a group of students who were also hearing impaired. I was never the only deaf person. I had teachers to confide in when I struggled and the support of friends with similar experiences.The teachers were great at doing presentations on hearing impairment. It made the students curious so they would come and ask questions. It was a great conversation starter so it helped me to make friends. There are some situations now, like when I am swimming, when it’s still difficult to communicate. But now I am quite confident to tell people people what my limitations are so my needs can be met. It can be hard feeling confident enough to do that when you’re younger.
It was manageable in the classrooms because the teachers wore FM microphones and their voices would connect directly to our hearing devices. Most of the time, I received the help I needed but getting special consideration for VCE was really hard. My parents, my teachers and my school all fought for me to get special consideration. I did well at school so they said I didn’t need any help. But I was doing well because I was getting the assistance I needed to reach my potential. Being hearing impaired, you have to work hard, you have to really focus on your teachers’ voices and you have to go back over everything more. I got special consideration for most subjects but I had to do two exams without any assistance.
“I hope my work can help make a difference”
I got into a Bachelor of Arts at Monash University and majored in Psychology, having had an interest after studying Psychology in Year 11 and 12. At Monash University, it was a lot easier to get help because I did advocate for myself. You have to be able to do that and you have to know the support you are entitled to receive – or you won’t get any help at university. I had a note taker throughout my Bachelor of Arts and Honours year so I could focus solely on the lecturers. If I had been trying to take notes, I would have missed out on what the lecturers were saying.
After completing my Honours, I wasn’t sure what direction I was going to take so I took a gap year and went backpacking through Europe for six months… which was an amazing experience. Working at DCA is great for me because I really want to focus my career in Psychology around preventative programs and I would like to develop programs myself. I aim to get my Masters in the future but I am really enjoying getting practical experience.
Until I became a family support worker, I was a research assistant in La Trobe University’s project focussing on the early language development of children with cochlear implants, and the factors which influence their outcomes. DCA is an industry partner in this research and the CommuniCate resource is an integral part of the research.
The knowledge gained from this national study will provide valuable information for parents and professionals all around the world about the language development outcomes for children with a cochlear implant. The study introduces some families to Auslan during the critical developmental early years and will compare language and communication competencies with those children who are not introduced to Auslan. As part of this research, I was doing observations of parent-child interactions and assessments of the infants’ cognitive development.
The CommuniCate resource will really benefit infants and young children as their families will be able to teach them Auslan and learn how to communicate effectively with them from such a young age. There is already enough research to show the benefits of learning two languages early because our main language development occurs between the ages of 0 – 5.
I didn’t begin to learn Auslan until I was 16 when I had a chance to study it during VCE and at Latrobe University. I managed without sign language but looking back, I can see how it would have filled in the gaps. In certain situations, no matter how many times something was said, I couldn’t hear. I have friends who speak English well and they are fluent in both languages. I spent so much time in speech therapy so at the time that seemed best for me. But I would have liked that opportunity to become fluent in both languages when I was younger.
DCA’s new online safety awareness program, Safe, is really important to empower children and young people more. Research shows people with a disability are at higher risks of abuse. We can help them identify inappropriate behaviours and have the confidence to go to someone for help. Children who are hearing impaired can’t hear a car alarm or an intruder coming in. You don’t hear as much about correct behaviours in the playground and sometimes when you’re hearing impaired, you might lack some social skills – so it’s important for us to address bullying. Safe gives children and young people the information and language they need.
Throughout my work, I want to help deaf children as well as other children with preventative programs like Safe or Hear For You. I am also a mentor in the Hear For You program, which aims to inspire young deaf people. I feel that when they are still young, we can really make a difference.”