‘I took 18 months off work to teach my deaf baby to talk. Now, she can hear.’

Baby Laura was born deaf but her mother was determined to do something about it and make her baby’s life easier.

Mother of three, Dr Belinda Barnet, knew how hard it can be – she was born profoundly deaf in her left ear.

The university lecturer says she was lucky enough to be able to take 18-months off work to teach her child to talk.

“She is a gorgeous little blue-eyed cheeky muffin but there’s just additional element when a child has a disability that initially causes stress. It felt like I couldn’t take a breath or stop until I was sure she was going to be okay,” said Dr Barnet.

Laura and her mother, Belinda. Image supplied.

At 11 months old, her baby daughter was fitted with bilateral cochlear implants and the pair started intense early intervention therapy.

With a few pathology courses under her belt, the Melbourne mother spent 14 months at home trying to coax a sound from her daughter.

It was six months after Laura got her implants that she spoke.

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"Her first word was 'up'," she told Mamamia.

Laura was 15 months old, she had often raised her hands to ask her mother to lift her but that day, she asked.

"I just felt like crying with happiness that she’d used a word," Dr Barnet said.

"Then they just came. They just tumbled out. By the time she was two she had 400 and I stopped counting after two."

"Laura can hear better than me."

Now four-year-old Laura, the youngest of three children speaks "beautifully", she dobs on her brother and occasionally makes things up.  She talks "non-stop" and likes to sing Let it Go in the car.

"She can hear everything. She can hear better than me – for example if another kid is screaming in a room in the house I can’t tell where it is coming from because I have no directional hearing. Laura can tell me which room they’re in or where it’s coming from," said the mother of three.

"You meet Laura and you wouldn’t know there’s an impairment and that’s actually what I would like to see all kids turn out like," said Dr Barnet.

Podcast: Jessica Smith: motherhood with one arm. (Post continues after podcast).

The miracle

Witnessing this "miracle" inspired Dr Barnet to help others who are born deaf and parents who may not have the financial freedom to spend extended time off work.

"It was miraculous and happened in front of me.  I’ve been studying technology for 20 years and I thought why don’t I concentrate on this miraculous thing that’s happened in front of me."

Along with a team of researchers from Swinburne University, Dr Barnet is developing an app to teach infants with cochlear implants how to speak.

"The exercises I did were quite repetitive and being repetitive lends itself to automation," said Dr Barnet.

The app, GetTalking, is undergoing clinical trials and Dr Barnet hopes it will one day alleviate some of the stress families go through as well as help others with their development.

Working in the Baby Lab at Swinburne. Image supplied.

"I wanted Laura to be able to have access to the wider hearing community," said the senior lecturer.

"There are activists against cochlear implantation that think a kid who is born deaf should learn to sign and that deafness is not a pathology and [they say] it’s kind of wrong to jump in and pathologise deafness and implants and impose spoken language.

"Because I grew up deaf, I know it’s really hard so I did jump in early but the majority of parents Australia wide choose to do that."

Dr Barnet believes any deaf child who is "worked on properly" will be able to hear.

“I am really happy that Laura has turned out so well, but I am aware that there’s 20 per cent that fall through the gap, so we’re kinda aiming [the app] at them."

The Melbourne mother says Frozen-singing Laura is set to go to school soon and she will be learning sign as an additional language - like learning Japanese or Italian.

"Laura was speaking in sentences at two-years-old and now she just sounds like a four-year-old. All kids should be that way."

 

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