“The BC Family Hearing Centre could help with Tiana’s communication,” Nicola Swain, our speech therapist, said as she put her speech therapy tools back into her bag. “They’re a fantastic resource.”**From our archives. Originally published in our 2017 Summer Reaching Out newsletter. Tiana is now in Grade 2!**
Tiana frowned as she watched her visitor. She didn’t like to see all the wind-up toys, bubbles and feathers disappearing. But Tiana didn’t say anything—she couldn’t. When an ambulance went by our house, sirens wailing and I mentioned that to Tiana, she didn’t respond. Could she hear them? She couldn’t tell us. When we were driving and she was buckled in the back seat, she simply silently stared out the window or fell asleep.
I was reluctant to call the Hearing Centre. While Tiana did have bilateral mild hearing loss, she had received strong support from infancy through her infant development specialist who came to our house regularly. She’d already seen an occupational specialist and physiotherapist, and had been under the care of the Centre for Child Development in Surrey. She was going to be attending their preschool. How could I ask another agency to help?
But she needed a way to communicate. When her brother and sister said good morning, she’d smile and sometimes wave, but she said nothing. When we’d go outside, I’d point to the sky and say, “Look at those fluffy clouds!” Although she was an active, energetic, aware child, she’d rarely look up. And when she did look, she was still silent. There was no way to gauge how much she was experiencing because she couldn’t express it in words.
However, one way to communicate did show promise. Her specialist taught us a few American Sign Language signs, and Tiana picked them up and retained them even better than the rest of the family. Soon she was showing us she wanted “more” and that she was “all done.” If she could expand her ASL knowledge, that could break the barrier between her and her world.
Finally I phoned the Hearing Centre. Cathy Luther listened as I explained how challenging any communication was, but how Tiana only had mild hearing loss. “I don’t know if she can access services, but I wanted to check,” I said, my voice small. I didn’t know what to do if she said no, but I had checked other resources, and Tiana hadn’t met the criteria.
“She is eligible for resources and we’re here to help,” she said. “Let’s have an intake meeting. Come on by!”
At the first in-person meeting, Tiana played with one of the people at the centre as I answered questions and learned about the available resources: everything from small group classes to one-on-one ASL support. Specialists could even come to our home. Bursting into our house later, I told Tiana’s two siblings, “I think we’ve found the help Tiana needs.”
“How?” asked her big sister. So many times she’d tried to have basic conversations with her little sister and had to stay within the confines of basic signs.
“There’s this place called the (BC) Family Hearing Centre. We can all learn American Sign Language. They’ll come to the house and give us lessons.” Her brother nodded. “That could be good.”
He was right. ASL teachers from the Centre provided private lessons in our home, which for Tiana meant more people arriving with bags full of toys, ready to play. In the summer, when we attended the three-day Mingle & Play extravaganza at the Hearing Centre, it was as though she’d entered an alternate world, one where people actually understood each other. Tiana met Sharon Neufeld, who became not only her favourite class teacher but also her friend. Moving to Tiana’s level, Sharon paid close attention to Tiana and responded. Teachers and students understood when she explained she wanted to create a house out of the bricks or wanted to go outside. It was also clear when Tiana signed she didn’t want to do things, like go to the bathroom or ever leave the Hearing Centre.
That fall and the next, Tiana and her dad became regular attendees at the Parents and Language Stimulation Programme (PALS), sometimes driving four days a week to the centre when they also attended Sharon’s ASL focused VALS group. Humpty Dumpty, Goldilocks & The Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs became favourite stories to read and act out because that’s what the teachers, the students and even some parents did. She let us know when it was raining or cloudy. Karen Jackson provided more ASL lessons.
As her ASL vocabulary exploded, we worked to keep up. It was obvious ASL was one of her talents. Still, hand-in-hand, her speech began to develop as well, but far, far behind her signs. As kindergarten loomed, I expressed my concerns to the teachers.
How would Tiana understand the teacher? How would she be able to communicate? Again, the Hearing Centre filled the gap, this time with Parents’ Empowerment and Educational Readiness (PEER), a programme to prepare families for kindergarten. The year-long program culminated in three days of pre-kindergarten preparation, ending with each child ordering their treats at the nearby Dairy Queen. Tiana let the clerk know she wanted french fries. Students, teachers and parents had lively conversations as they ate their ice cream and Tiana devoured her fries.
Two-and-a-half years after the phone call to the BC Family Hearing Centre, Tiana’s hearing loss is mild-moderate. Her favourite past-time is to have her dolls engage in animated conversations complete with dialogue. She also enjoys singing and dancing. She’s entering a kindergarten class in the local school with another graduate of the Centre’s programs, and she was just fitted with her hearing equipment for the fall. Charmaine Francis, from the Centre, attended Tiana’s intake meeting at the local public elementary school, provided weekly speech therapy through the summer, and gave us much needed information and advice.
As Tiana and I walk to play on the school playground, she lets me know she wants to jump for a while before we continue. She practices her both-feet-off-the-ground jumps, and we admire some flowers and she comments on the huge rock in a garden. “What do you want to do now?” I ask Tiana, looking into her sparkling eyes. “Playground,” she shouts, and signs “swing.” Off we go, ready.