Clinic’s therapy program helps deaf people learn to communicate without use of sign language

From there to hear


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Engage in conversation with Hannah Brown and you will hear about a woman who is going to university and excels in curling.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/12/2015 (2536 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Engage in conversation with Hannah Brown and you will hear about a woman who is going to university and excels in curling.

You would never guess the 20-year-old is deaf.


Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press From left, Pam Campbell, Chris, Hannah and Debbie Brown and Jerry Storie at the Central Hearing and Speech Clinic.

That’s because Brown’s parents took her to the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic when she was 14 months old. After years of therapy, working with hearing aids that were far more powerful than standard ones and having surgery for a cochlear implant when she was 11, she listens and speaks like most everyone else.

“Every child wants to feel normal. They don’t want to be defined by their disability,” Brown said.

“I never wanted to be known as ‘Hannah the deaf kid.’ A lot of people forget that I’m hard of hearing and only remember when I ask them to repeat something.”

Central Speech and Hearing Clinic was founded in 1989 by four sets of parents who were taking their children out of the province — in some cases, out of the country — to access auditory-verbal therapy. The clinic has seen hundreds of children and adults in the years since.

The method is different than using sign language. In fact, the clinic discourages the use of sign language, focusing solely on auditory-verbal therapy, which stresses speech and listening through the use of amplification devices and implants.

Pam Campbell, CSHC’s executive director — and one of the parents who started the program — said the clinic’s founders decided to redirect all of the money they were spending on airfare, hotel bills and food to bring their own AV therapist to Winnipeg.

They also decided to open up the program being created to other children and their families.

From those humble beginnings, at the time housed in the basement of Victoria General Hospital, the clinic has grown to nine staff members, including three audiologists, in an almost 5,000-square-foot facility in a strip mall on Markham Road. It also helps adults who have received cochlear implants.

Brown’s parents, Chris and Debbie, said it’s interesting that few people would be able to tell their daughter is deaf now because when she was a baby and toddler, they didn’t know she had been born with a hearing impairment.

“I was surprised, but looking back there were some things that stuck out,” Debbie said.

“She would be screaming and I’d say, ‘I’m coming,’ and she would settle when I opened the door. Sometimes she would cover her ears and cry. And when she was a month old, a dog was barking right beside her and she wasn’t startled.”

“We had friends come to visit from Ontario, and one of them was an early education specialist. They knew and agreed one would tell my wife and the other would tell me,” Chris said.

“After they left, we went through what would we do. At that time, we thought it was horrific news.”

The Browns examined all the options available to Hannah and decided to attend a parents meeting at CSHC.

“We thought that if our daughter can do as well as the kids we saw, it’s probably a good place to be,” Chris said.

Studies have found that upwards of 94 per cent of people with hearing loss are not deaf, but hard of hearing, and the majority of people who are diagnosed as deaf actually have some residual hearing. It’s that residual hearing that can be bolstered by using hearing devices.

When children with profound hearing losses are given hearing devices, whether a hearing aid or cochlear implant, they can begin to process verbal language and learn to speak, Campbell said.

The clinic’s goal is to see children born with hearing losses go through life in a mainstream learning and living environment and be independent, she said.

She noted Hannah’s success is due both to her parents working with her and the fact they took her to the clinic when she was young.

“At that time we had a lot of children coming who were three and four,” Campbell said.

“Now we are seeing babies. We still get a range of years coming here for the first time, but now we get babies.”

Chris said when his daughter started with CSHC, it was a whirlwind of hearing aids, ear moulds and weekly therapy sessions. While a therapist at the clinic would work with their daughter, the therapist was really teaching the Browns what to do until the next session. The parents would take their “homework” with them to continue to work with their daughter between therapy sessions.

They also had to test her on the Ling sounds. These are the six sounds — m, ah, ee, oo, sh, and s, ranged from low to high pitch — that we all use in speech.

For children such as Brown, they are a quick way of testing to see if she is hearing a full range of sound and if the hearing devices are still working.

After working with their daughter numerous times daily, Chris clearly remembers the day all new parents wait for — his daughter’s first word.

“I remember like it was yesterday,” he said.

“The first word Hannah said was ‘up.’ I think I looked down and cried when she said that. It was less than three months after starting here.”

Debbie said within her daughter’s first year at the clinic, she put two words together — and there was no stopping her after that.

“I don’t tell people I’m hard of hearing unless there’s a reason,” Hannah said.

“Most people don’t realize I’m deaf unless I tell them.”

Hannah said people figure there’s something up when they see she has a note-taker in class so she can read on a computer screen what the professor is saying. She said the university pays for the note-taker and she reimburses the school after receiving disability student aid. She had an educational assistant from elementary school through high school.

Brown, who skipped her curling team to the provincial women under-18 championship in 2013, has already qualified for next year’s provincial Junior Curling Championship.

Because of the noise from the crowds and from other rinks, “my team has to remember to look up so I can read their lips,” she said.

Campbell said one of her two daughters living with hearing loss is 33 and hasn’t worn a hearing aid since she was 16, when she got her implant.

“She’s only now trying a hearing aid again for Bluetooth,” she said.

The AV therapy program has been used in Ontario since the 1960s, Campbell said.

“When we started, we were the first AV clinic west of Ontario. Since then, we helped a clinic in Saskatchewan set up and another in Calgary”

Campbell said the special hearing aids are expensive, but the Elks and Royal Purple organization has set up an fund for families who need help buying the aids and other equipment.

Other than that, Campbell said, the clinic is affiliated with Victoria General Hospital and receives funding from the provincial government, but still has to raise funds, including from an annual golf tournament and its signature event, the Culinary Classic for Kids.

“We decided in 1989 there would be no cost to the families — it is already a financial burden for a family with a child with a hearing loss, with the equipment needs. This would cost about $4,000 per year for a family.”

Jerry Storie, a former cabinet minister in the Howard Pawley NDP government in the 1980s, has volunteered with the organization for more than a decade.

“Profoundly deaf kids can learn to speak. That wasn’t true 50 years ago. There’s always going to be that segment of the population that won’t be able to speak — they’ll still sign– but the majority can,” he said.

“Our board is of the opinion that this method should be tried first.”

Debbie was so impressed by the methods used by CSHC that in the years since her daughter was diagnosed and helped by the clinic, she has become a Certified Auditory-Verbal Therapist herself there.

“We’re really proud of Hannah and know she’ll accomplish her hopes and dreams,” she said.

Today, Brown is in her third year at the University of Manitoba enrolled in environmental studies. When she graduates in 2017, she wants to apply to enter an audiology program either at Dalhousie University or Western University.

“I have expectations of being an audiologist myself,” she said.

“I have the clinic to thank. I tell everyone they should consider AV therapy to learn to listen and talk.

“It gives the child the best opportunity to succeed and to do well for life.”

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.


Updated on Saturday, December 26, 2015 7:12 AM CST: Photo changed.

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