Seven-year-old Charlie received cochlear implants at six months old and this, combined with early access to specialised speech therapy, has given him a tremendous start in learning how to listen and speak.
His Mum, Sinead, credits the individualised approach to therapy by his NextSense speech pathologists as helping Charlie to thrive in spoken language.
Charlie’s profound hearing loss was discovered during his newborn hearing screening and from there it was a ‘bit of a whirlwind’, according to Sinead.
The family, from Darwin, found NextSense early on in their journey when Charlie was just six weeks old.
Cochlear implants and the adventure of Auslan
After some research, the family decided to proceed with cochlear implants in both ears for Charlie aged six months to give him the opportunity to have speech in his life. Charlie is also learning Auslan alongside his family and they are all enjoying the adventure of learning a new language.
Since he received his implants at such a young age, Charlie’s never known any different, although there have been some hair-raising moments for the family navigating the early years with a rambunctious toddler. On one memorable occasion Charlie threw his implant out of the car window while they were driving!
While a plan was developed for Charlie’s speech therapy, he didn’t follow a traditional trajectory in terms of the sounds he was able to make. He took to sounds that are traditionally seen as more difficult, but had trouble producing others such as ‘k’ and ‘g’.
Trialling different speech therapy methods
With his speech therapist, Hannah, they tried a range of conventional speech therapy methods. This included minimal pairs therapy, where Charlie tried to focus on two words which are very similar but differ by one sound, such as ‘kick’ and tick’. When this didn’t work, Hannah didn’t give up.
Next, they tried a complexity approach, choosing more difficult speech sounds to get 'more bang for your buck' and encourage a system-wide change of speech sounds. For example, they chose to target 'skw' words, which is technically more difficult than 'k' on its own.
Speech therapy can be hard work and is repetitive, so Hannah made sure the two had fun together, trying out games and science experiments using the different sounds.
— Hannah, NextSense Speech Therapist
I explained to Charlie that our tongue is a muscle, and we have to practice the movement lots of times before we can do it perfectly without thinking, just like when we are learning to do a cartwheel or kick a ball.
A tailored approach
One day, they had a lightbulb moment. While practicing the ‘skw’ sound using words like ‘squid’, and ‘square’, Charlie was able to gradually take away the ‘s’ and ‘w’ sound until he said ‘k’.
From there, Charlie made leaps and bounds with his speech progression and is now able to spend more time doing what loves, like playing soccer, camping and fishing.
— Sinead, Charlie's Mum
While there are guidelines and plans, every child is different, and it really helps to have a therapist that can adjust to this. Don’t give up hope—just keep on encouraging them.
Sinead believes the intensive learning Charlie has experienced in his young years has set him on the right path for school and he has excelled, winning a number of awards already.
‘He’s outgoing and cheeky, but also quite sensible and serious’, she says.
What advice would Sinead offer to parents navigating their child’s hearing loss?
— Sinead, Charlie's Mum
Take all the support you get offered. It’s a rollercoaster but the sooner you can access early intervention services, the better the outcome for your child. It’s definitely a team effort.
Watch the video below to see more of Charlie.