Sandra Rosenberger started the New Connections Parent Support Group in 2012 with the support of Deaf Children Australia because, as she says, “I noticed a big lack of connections for families, particularly when they left Early Intervention services to move into school”. Sandra was happy to share the story of why she started New Connections and what the group hopes to achieve:
“Our family had chosen a mainstream school nearby with no deaf facility for our son Lachlan (who is now 7) and when he started Prep, we noticed a big difference in him. Lachlan had some support from a Visiting Teacher but he was the only child with a hearing impairment at his school and he no longer had that fantastic boost to his self-esteem from being around other children with hearing aids.
Lachlan missed the other children and I missed the support as a parent. We have always gone to DCA’s Family Camps so we were aware how important connections are. During the transition to Prep, I felt I had to find out a lot of information on my own and I thought that if some parents aren’t so good at accessing information, or if they have different linguistic backgrounds, they could be missing out on helpful resources.
So we started New Connections with the support of DCA to bring together families from across the Inner South East Region of Melbourne. We alternate between family events and parent discussions. Family activities have included rock climbing and a family picnic, and we have an African drumming workshop coming up. We had one child attend the rock climbing event who had never before seen another child with hearing aids. That opportunity was really special for him and it’s important for all of us families to share information in real life. The online forums are great but it means a lot for us to get together as entire families and build meaningful relationships. There are support services for siblings past eight but it’s important for younger siblings to share their experiences as well.
We decided to move Lachlan to another school that has a hearing support unit for the start of Grade One. It was lovely that when we visited the school, there were children waving to him and welcoming him in almost every classroom. He had met some of the children at our Support Group, some at DCA’s Camps and some at DCA’s Primary Deaf Sports Day. Now, Lachlan sees children with hearing aids and implants every day. My pressing need to connect with other parents is being partly addressed in the schoolyard but it’s still really important for us to have a network to bring everyone together. Some kids feel like, ‘No one else looks like me at primary school and I feel alone in the world’. We have tried to avoid Lachlan feeling like that.
As a support group, we can meet the distinct needs of parents, siblings and children with varying degrees of hearing loss just by getting together. When all the parents know how to use effective communication, we can have lots of fun. We can also access expert information through our parents’ workshops organised by DCA’s Community Development Coordinator Debra Gormley.”
“Lachlan was diagnosed at 2 ½ years of age with bilateral moderate to severe sensorineural hearing loss. Someone suggested his speech wasn’t clear so we had Lachlan assessed at Australian Hearing. It was completely overwhelming at the time of his diagnosis and we started on a rollercoaster of Early Intervention and other therapy.
Lachlan’s hearing loss is related to genetic causes and it has been stable since diagnosis. But we have come a long way in the last five years and Lachlan is now a very happy, busy little man. He participates in Chess Club, swimming and cricket. He recently started at Hebrew School and in three weeks, covered the entire Prep curriculum, recognising all the Hebrew letters.
As a family, we try very hard to ensure Lachlan doesn’t feel excluded and we’re always checking whether he looks disengaged. We never play background music, we only have one conversation at a time at the dinner table with our three children and we always repeat anything that Lachlan has missed. We always have the captions on the television just in case Lachlan walks through the room and we sometimes use Auslan to support some of our conversations. Lachlan is thrilled that at school, his buddy has cochlear implants. It is a huge advantage for Lachlan that his teacher is well supported by Teachers of the Deaf.
Lachlan wears hearing aids and just recently, a teacher was checking his FM system through a door. My Mum was there with Lachlan and he said, “Granny, can you hear that?” She shook her head. Lachlan responded, “I can hear it because I’m deaf and I have superpowers – I can hear through doors and walls. It’s very good having a deaf person in your family because we get to go to family camps, Primary Deaf Sports Day and New Connections… and I can talk through windows with Auslan.”
So we have gone from worrying so much about Lachlan’s future to our current situation where he has high self- esteem. And this comes from getting together with others who are deaf and hard of hearing, seeing others using their technology and knowing the potential. Lachlan doesn’t feel he is less than anyone else. I know New Connections is contributing to Lachlan’s self-esteem and if we can open up those opportunities for other children, that is fantastic.”
Sandra invites other families with children who have any degree or type of hearing loss living in the inner south-east region of Melbourne to come along to New Connections.