Hearing loss no barrier to Lachlan starting school thanks to The Shepherd Centre program

Ready for school: A hearing impairment will not stop Lachlan Sorensen from starting Kindy next year. Picture: Supplied

Ready for school: A hearing impairment will not stop Lachlan Sorensen from starting Kindy next year. Picture: Supplied

When Lachlan Sorensen, of Menai, was diagnosed with moderate bilateral hearing loss as a baby, his mum Jessica didn't know what the future would hold.

Even though there was a family history of hearing loss on his father's side, the news still came as a shock, as older sister Hannah had perfect hearing.

Ms Sorensen first got an inkling something was wrong when Lachlan failed his Statewide Infant Screening - Hearing (SWISH) test at two days old.

"I was just gobsmacked," Ms Sorensen said. "I had worried about it with my first child but the second time I did not even think about it."

His diagnosis came three weeks later after further tests.

"No parent wants their child to be seen as different. The first reaction is to burst into tears, the second is to do everything possible to help your child," Ms Sorensen said.

At just seven weeks of age, Lachlan was fitted with his first pair of hearing aids. The aim was to stimulate the auditory nerve so he was "used to hearing sounds and his brain could process it".

Because babies grow so quickly up to nine months, Ms Sorensen would get him fitted for new hearing aids every two weeks.

"Trying to keep hearing aids on a baby is very difficult," Ms Sorensen said.

At 10 weeks, he started attending the Newtown branch of The Shepherd Centre - a registered charity that provides a family-centred early intervention program to teach children born deaf or hearing impaired how to develop spoken language.

For the first year they concentrated on nursery rhymes that contained the seven "functional sounds" - the building blocks of speech.

At 12 months he was assigned a speech therapist and started on The Shepherd Centre's world-leading Auditory-Verbal Therapy program. He attended fortnightly and then monthly in preparation for starting school next year.

Now five, Lachlan recentlygraduated from the program, which gives children the skills, confidence and support to help them enter mainstream schools. He was among a record 62 hearing impaired children from across the country to graduate.

"The Shepherd Centre has taught us how best to help Lachlan tune into sounds. They've also been instrumental in continuing to build his confidence," Mrs Sorensen said.

Despite the family's initial fears that Lachlan's hearing loss would affect his learning, speech, socialisation and ability to keep up, Mrs Sorensen said he was on par with his peers and was looking forward to joining his Hannah, 8 next year at Tharawal Public School, Illawong.

Hearing help: Laclan Sorensen at his 'graduation' with mum Jessica and sister Hannah. Picture: Supplied

Hearing help: Laclan Sorensen at his 'graduation' with mum Jessica and sister Hannah. Picture: Supplied

Children with hearing loss often struggle in a classroom environment due to background noise but Ms Sorensen said Tharawal Public, just like his preschool, Bright Futures Early Learning Centre at Menai, had gone above and beyond.

Had it not been for early intervention and The Shepherd Centre, Ms Sorensen said Lachlan probably would not be able to attend a mainstream school.

The Shepherd Centre chief executive Dr Jim Hungerford said while it had been an "incredibly challenging year" due to the COVID pandemic, the graduating children and their families had worked tirelessly to complete the program online.

"Many people don't realise the bright future possible for children with hearing loss," he said.

"These little superstars are living proof of the power of early intervention and we look forward to hearing of their successes as they start school, and in the years to come."

Hearing loss affects one in every 1000 babies at birth in Australia, with the rate increasing to one in 300 children by school age, due to acquired and developed hearing loss.

Access to early intervention can help these children achieve strong speech, listening and language outcomes, leading to a bright future.

A recent report found 62 per cent of children with a hearing impairment who received early intervention go on to achieve a tertiary level qualification.

It costs almost $16,000 a year to provide essential services to each child, of which 30 per cent is government-funded. The Shepherd Centre relies on fundraising to help more than 600 families access services.

Details: Phone 1800 020 030 or click here.