Australia leads the world in early intervention services

01 Apr 2015

By Siobhan McAlary

The Shepherd Centre is pleased to reveal that First Voice study shows Australia and New Zealand are at the forefront of early intervention services for deaf children who are starting to surpass their hearing peers in the development of speech, vocabulary and language skills.

The study – Sound Outcomes: First Voice speech and language data – looked at the language, vocabulary and speech skills of 696 Australian and New Zealand pre-school deaf children enrolled in listening and spoken language early intervention services.

The findings showed 83 per cent of pre-school deaf children were on par or above their hearing peers in vocabulary skills, close to 78 per cent had average or above average language skills and the speech skills of 73 per cent fitted into the standard range or higher.

Of the findings Dr Jim Hungerford, CEO of The Shepherd Centre, said the notion that deafness equates signing is from a bygone era.

“The reality is most deaf children are taught to listen and speak, attend mainstream schools and integrate into the hearing world.”

One such reality is six-year-old Charles Stenstrom who wears cochlear implants and attends St Andrew’s Cathedral School.

At only 10 weeks old he was supplied with hearing aids and then with cochlear implants after he lost all hearing 12 months later.

His mother Belinda said from diagnosis to fitting to starting school the services provided by The Shepherd Centre enabled Charles to catch up to his peers.

Now in Year One, Charles is part of the school choir and the proud recipient of an academic achievement award.

According to Chair of First Voice, Therese Kelly, the “truly remarkable” outcomes of the study correlate with the growing demand for listening and spoken language early intervention services in Australia and New Zealand as the vast majority of deaf babies are born to hearing parents.

The study suggests that listening and spoken language early intervention, alongside early diagnosis of hearing loss and proper fitting of hearing instruments, activates auditory brain development. Early contact with sound facilitates normal speech and language development as children learn to make sense and meaning out of what they hear.

Ms. Kelly advised parents to act quickly if they are worried about their child’s hearing as timing is crucial for positive results.

First Voice is a national body dedicated to supporting the delivery of excellent listening and spoken language therapy services to children with hearing loss through its six member organisations including The Shepherd Centre.

For those interested, more information is available at www.shepherdcentre.org.au and www.firstvoice.org.au.