COVID-19 has brought with it many challenges. At the height of the pandemic elective surgery was paused. Babies with a severe to profound hearing loss, and their families faced the challenge of waiting for cochlear implant surgery.
To support these families, the experts at RIDBC created a new online group, Auslan Baby Tree, giving babies access to a communication system prior to receiving cochlear implants.
The importance of the Auslan Baby Tree program
Facilitated online via Zoom, the group sessions introduced babies to Auslan. For parents, the Auslan Baby Tree program was the opportunity to share experiences with each other and create a network of support.
RIDBC’s Best Practice Lead for Early Intervention (Hearing), Inge Kaltenbrunn said the program was developed to ensure there was no delay in providing children with access to language.
“It is vital that babies have early access to language as a foundation for their later communication development. It also helps parents to effectively communicate with their baby and establish a strong connection,” said Inge.
It also offered families choice.
Inge continued, “RIDBC supports families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing with which ever language they choose for their children, be that a spoken language or Auslan.” For bilingual families who spoke a language other than English, an interpreter also joined the group.
The group sessions were facilitated by Alison Hawkins-Bond, RIDBC Professional Experience Coordinator, and former early learning program coordinator for children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Alison was also involved with the program’s creation and development.
“What made Auslan Baby Tree special was that it brought together a myriad of families at different stages of their journey who were unified by their experience,” said Alison.
Supporting families in a time of need
Cochlear implant surgery falls into category 3 of the elective surgery list, and for a period during COVID-19 such surgery was paused. For parents of babies who are deaf the situation was uncertain and wait times unknown.
Approximately 6 families have participated in the Auslan Baby Tree program, grasping the opportunity to provide a solid foundation to their child’s language needs and development, while waiting for the impending cochlear implantation.
“Waiting for cochlear implant surgery is daunting enough at any time but delays to surgery due to COVID-19 added an extra layer of anxiety for parents. So, being able to share concerns with other parents in the Auslan Baby Tree was very beneficial,” said Alison.
“RIDBC was able to introduce the babies to Auslan through songs, games and signs for everyday routines which helped them communicate what they wanted, reduced frustration and made the families feel supported.”
A successful program for children and families
As well as providing a foundation for language, Inge said the program also offered parents a further opportunity to connect with their baby.
One such baby was 10-month-old Agar who, despite her age, was able to demonstrate an understanding for Auslan by signing for food.
“When baby Agar signed ‘food/eat’ we were so excited as it showed how she could communicate with her family even though she could not yet say the words,” said Alison.
“Agar is a great example of a baby using the signs she learned whilst waiting for her CI [cochlear implant surgery] in combination with the sounds and words she is now hearing.”
The next steps for babies with cochlear implants
As some COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, many of the babies who were part of Auslan Baby Tree program have since progressed to cochlear implant surgery. For them, vital early intervention services continue to give them the best outcomes for their listening, communication, and social skills using their chosen way of communicating.
RIDBC is committed to supporting babies and children who are deaf or hard of hearing, and their families. The Early Intervention services available at RIDBC offer families holistic care by building a team around the child to support them with a tailored and individualised plan.