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February 18, 2004

Learning edge for deaf preschoolers

From: Orange Central Western Daily - Orange,New South Wales,Australia - Feb 18, 2004

By Kelly Fitzgerald

More pre-schoolers than usual were diagnosed as deaf last year in Orange, prompting the Itinerant Support Teachers for Hearing Service to set up a weekly play group for deaf children. Service assistant principal and coordinator of services for deaf children Ros Craig said the increase could be attributed to a number of factors.

"One could be that we are becoming more skilled in picking up deafness in children, and I think that's the truth," she said. "Statewide all babies are screened at three days old, so we shouldn't have any more children born deaf who aren't picked up until four or five."

Mrs Craig said the hearing group would help deaf preschoolers with language and speech acquisition. "For a deaf child the experience of being in a group and learning those sorts of sound skills and strategies to get information is valuable, because deaf preschoolers often don't get that."

The group will meet in the parents as teachers room at Bowen Public School every Thursday between 10am and noon. There is a hope that in the future this group may be able to provide support for other parents who learn their child has a hearing loss.

Mrs Craig said research showed children diagnosed as having a hearing loss before the age of six months should have age appropriate language acquisition by school entry, if they were fitted with a hearing aid device and if specialist teaching intervention occurred (if other factors such as home environment were equal).

"I have to replicate how a hearing baby learns speech and language," she said.

"In the early stages that is primarily through play but with a huge amount of talking, because we have to reiterate and repeat words in order for a child to take them in. Because they don't overhear, and that's how hearing babies learn to talk, we have to teach them 'artificially'."

The hearing service operates under the Department of Education and Training and has an office at Orange Public School.

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