Nine-year-old Natalija Mladenovic is just as chatty as her friends at Williamstown North Public School. She just happens to have lived with total hearing loss since birth and has never heard natural sounds.
Yet today she attends mainstream primary school, plays competitive basketball, is learning Japanese, and just completed the annual Run Melbourne event.
On 20 October Natalija will also be at the centre of Loud Shirt Day - a national day of fundraising and awareness raising for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Natalija will be leading a school fundraiser for NextSense.
The day is all about wearing your wackiest shirt to celebrate, increasing community awareness about hearing loss and raising critically important funds so children like Natalija get the support they need.
Natalija began her hearing journey at NextSense when she was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at four weeks. Her bilateral cochlear implants, an implant for each ear, were fitted at 10 months.
There was no time to waste. The first six years of life are what the speech therapists call ‘the sensitive period’ when baby brains are wired to absorb language.
Children with hearing loss don’t have the same opportunities as other children to overhear and absorb all the environmental language happening around them. Natalija needed to interpret electronic signals from her cochlear implants and was explicitly taught what words are and how they are used.
NextSense is a world leader in research and professional education in this field – and also runs Australia’s largest cochlear implant program.
Natalija is proud to be an ambassador for Loud Shirt Day at her school.
Loud Shirt Day is my favourite celebration! It’s about celebrating kids just like me and I love it.
She’s excited to welcome Local member, Melissa Horne MP, who will join the school community to celebrate Loud Shirt Day.
'I am honoured to be supporting and attending Loud Shirt Day at Williamstown North Primary School. I congratulate both the school and NextSense for the work they do to support those with hearing and vision loss,' Ms Horne said.
School principal, Richard Buckingham, said the school was proud of its commitment to diversity and inclusion and valued the role played by NextSense to help integrate Natalija seamlessly into her classroom and work closely with the school’s inclusion teacher.
'We have signed up for masterclasses provided by NextSense on working with children with hearing loss in a classroom setting,' Mr Buckingham said.
'Loud Shirt Day is an opportunity for all of us to learn about living with hearing loss, to understand advances in technology and do our bit to chip in to improve the lives of other young people like Natalija who is a valued member of our school.'