Earlier this year, Sound Advice met Rosie Gardner, head of the Sensory Support Service in the Southern region of Northern Ireland – who is now training as an auditory verbal therapist. Curiosity got the better of us, and we asked Rosie these questions:
1) What attracted you to deaf education, in the first instance?
This goes back to when I was just 17 years old and choosing a career. I had a week’s experience in a mainstream school but wasn’t sure it was ‘me’. I then considered Speech Therapy but after observing a Speech Therapist in a hospital, I again decided that this wasn’t for me. My ‘A’ level French teacher asked me what did I see myself doing and I replied – “teaching children that aren’t just ‘the norm’”. She asked if I had thought of working with deaf children (which I hadn’t) and suggested I visit a Unit for hearing impaired children, as they were called. As soon as I had spent 5 minutes in a Unit, I knew this was what I would do.
2) Back then, were many deaf children taught to listen and talk with hearing aids?
There were two distinct schools of thought back then – you either signed, or you learned to talk. My training in Manchester University was based on the Auditory-oral approach started by Lord and Lady Ewing, whose son was deaf and learned to talk. My training was very much Auditory-oral, and I only learned British Sign Language years later, for a Masters. For profoundly deaf children then, hearing devices were basic and their speech was very hard to understand, with listening and talking typically very difficult. I know several deaf adults who feel this early oral system failed them, in ‘forcing’ them to learn to speak and I changed to understanding that for some families, to sign was the appropriate method for them.
Despite this, it was still possible for many profoundly deaf children to learn to speak if the family wanted this mode of communication for their child and everyone in the family and the professionals were committed to it. I have always loved the challenge of developing a deaf child’s communication and the true potential and happiness of that child and his/her family emerging using whichever communication method is appropriate for them.
3) Do today’s children with digital hearing aids and cochlear implants have an easier path to learning to listen and talk?
For today’s children, with the amazing advances in digital hearing aids, cochlear implants, bone anchored hearing aids, implantable devices, radio aids and the fantastic research into the brain, there is a more straightforward path for any child, regardless of level or type of hearing loss and to learn to speak is much more achievable. I hesitate to say ‘easier’ because for all families, whichever mode of communication and path in life they choose for their children, it is never easy and it takes a big commitment from all concerned.
AVT (auditory-verbal therapy) is a fabulous way of coaching parents to carry on with the therapy when they are just at home, at the shops, in the park etc. The techniques used are so simple but make perfect sense once you know why you do it and what to do.
4) Have families got the message about AVT, or is more public awareness needed?
There are some families and professionals who absolutely get what AVT is; others, who do to some extent and then another group of people, both families and professionals who really don’t get what it is – and I have heard professionals pontificate about AVT making huge, incorrect assumptions. So yes, more education is needed for people to understand AVT fully.
For all families, it is a choice they make for their child and I do not feel it is right for any professional to say which is the best option for a family. As a professional, I like to give parents unbiased information so they can make an informed choice. Some parents, for whatever reason, choose to use sign language with their child and that is an entirely appropriate choice for them to make. All I hope is that the family make the fully-informed decision that is right for them, made with open eyes regarding the implications of their decision.
Communication is a huge commitment for families and it is important that they become 100% committed to that mode of communication, so if it is signing that they choose to do, the whole family, including the wider family, commit themselves to becoming completely fluent in Sign. If they choose for their child to learn to listen and to speak, they must commit to the methods of doing this. Parents also must consider the appropriate school placement for any mode of communication they choose. Obviously, as my specialism is with helping children learn to listen and to talk, I do have opinions regarding the huge benefits of AVT.
5) How is AVT seen by the teachers and professionals you routinely work with?
I started training as an Auditory Verbal Therapist in September 2015 and heard of AVT about 5 years earlier. Sadly, parents feel they have to go to England, often at great expense, or even the States for information, training and indeed AV therapy so it would be great if more teachers of the deaf, speech therapists or audiologists trained as AV Therapists. I am just starting out with a little private work and my prices are as low as possible so people don’t have to pay extortionate prices but can get the support they need.
Many teachers of the deaf or SLTs feel a little threatened, angry, upset or disappointed by the fact that parents feel they need to seek more support or help than what they are already giving and I can understand that as that was very much how I felt too. However, I also feel the nature of deaf education has changed so much in the past 10 years, we, as professionals, need to change too and keep up to date with all the new research around early diagnosis and the newborn hearing screening with all the amazing advances in technology.
6) What is the big, audacious change you would like to see in deaf education?
I could write a whole article on this as I feel passionate about it. I have found that among those who hold the purse strings, there is a lack of understanding as to what deaf children and their families need. Hearing loss is unique and very different to other conditions.
The changes I would love to see relate to the 0 – 6 years old age group:
a. With Newborn Hearing Screening, technology advances and the research into the brain, all professionals working with deaf children should access publicly-funded training. I found Part 1 of Auditory Verbal Therapy excellent and professionals would find it very beneficial to their practice even to do Part 1 – this took 6 days over 6 months, with assignments.
b. Once a baby/child is detected, they should be assigned qualified teachers of the deaf who work with Early Years only. During this crucial time, weekly or fortnightly support for families should include consistent support in their favored mode of communication.
c. Unbiased information should be given to parents to make an informed choice regarding the communication mode for their child and family. Communication impacts all areas of life so all this should be considered by parents in their decision making.
d. Consistent, regular and supportive training for parents in their favored communication mode should be available in their local (or regional) areas as relevant.
e. For parents working with Early Years teams, there should be some Auditory Verbal Therapists to give regular therapy sessions to children who are learning to listen and talk.
Please contact Rosie with queries about AVT or spoken language in children who’re deaf.
- Beliefs, Practices and Expectations of Oral Teachers of the Deaf (P. Brown, August 2010)