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January 23, 2005

Ring that bell

From: Queensland Sunday Mail, Australia - Jan 23, 2005


THE sound of the school bell will have special significance for one little Queenslander starting Grade 1 tomorrow.

Born deaf, Mac Bell, 5, was fitted with a cochlear hearing implant when he was 14 months and has been learning how to listen and speak with intensive language therapy for most of his life.

Mac is one of 10 graduates of Brisbane's Hear and Say Centre who will start school this year.

His years of therapy mean he now has a vocabulary almost on par with his peers.

Mac's mother Alex Bell, of Sherwood in Brisbane, said it was a "dream come true" for her son to be starting school.

"It's an incredible goal for him to have achieved and we are so proud of him," she said.

"He's so positive and confident and excited about school.

"When you first find out your child is deaf, you can't imagine ever getting to this point.

"It won't be easy. There are a lot of hurdles to overcome but his future is very positive.

"We can see only what he can do now, not what he can't do. It's opened up the world for him and school is just the first step.

Mac will attend Sherwood State School and his teacher will wear a special FM mini amplifier, worn as a lapel microphone, which amplifies the sound to Mac's cochlear implant while not sounding different to other students.

The Hear and Say Centre is a charity organisation that teaches deaf children how to listen and speak through language therapy.

The treatment costs $10,000 a child a year with about 160 children going through the program each year.

Centre spokeswoman Libby Marshall said its program, combined with cochlear implants or digital hearing aids, meant deaf children could lead normal lives.

"These kids can be journalists, barristers, doctors," she said. "One of our oldest students is studying to be an audiologist at university. They can now have the same education, career and lifestyle choices as anyone else.

"We do take our hearing for granted but if you can't hear, you can't learn to speak or write or read.

"The cochlear implants and digital hearing aids are just the beginning. Without the auditory verbal therapy, the children wouldn't learn to listen and speak.

"It's an amazing process because the kids learn syllable-by-syllable how to speak."

Mac is one of 53,900 kids who will start school in Queensland this year.

Clinical psychologist Matt Sanders, founder of the Positive Parenting Program, said it could be a stressful and challenging time.

He said going step-by-step through the school routine was an effective way of allaying their child's fears.

"Make sure that they can easily open their lunchbox and sandwiches, know to put up their hand when they need to go to the toilet, and how to use a drink fountain," he said. "Children need to be reassured that that the day is going to work out and they are going to enjoy it."

Prof Sanders said ensuring children had the skills to cope with the transition could ease anxiety caused by the separation from home.

"It's not a good idea to linger, because in a lot of ways it's hard for the school to get going with their routine if there are lots of parents hanging around," he said.

It was important not to build the child's expectations too high.

"Some children are arriving at school thinking they are going to learn everything all at once," he said.

© Queensland Newspapers