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 specific for babies waiting for cochlear implant surgery.
Keyword Sign uses manual sign and natural gesture to support communication often in conjunction with a spoken word. Signs are derived from Australian Sign Language (Auslan) however a distinction should be made between Keyword Sign and Auslan.
The importance of the Baby Group Program
Facilitated online via Zoom, the group sessions introduced babies to Keyword Sign. For parents, the Baby Group 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 the Baby Group Program 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 Baby Group 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 Baby Group Program was very beneficial,” said Alison.
“RIDBC was able to introduce the babies to Keyword Sign through songs, games and specific 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 Keyword Sign 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, since receiving her cochlear implant.”
The next steps for babies with cochlear implants
As some COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, many of the babies who were part of the online group now have a cochlear implant. For the children and their families, vital early intervention services (which includes groups in RIDBC centres) continue to give them the best outcomes for their listening, communication, and social skills using their chosen way of communicating, whether that be spoken language, sign language, or a combination.
RIDBC would like to thank the Australian Deaf community for the use of Auslan signs in Keyword Sign.
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.