12-year-old Leo has always loved to be active, but when he started karate in 2018, it was clear he had truly found his passion. Today, Leo has stepped up as a Senpai, who supports the Sensei in helping other students to shine.
And this big-hearted kid is all about helping others, despite having faced challenges of his own. Leo was diagnosed with hearing loss at age eight and has since received a cochlear implant and support from RIDBC Remote Services (formerly RIDBC Teleschool).
Leo’s dad, Jason, says he had one big wish from his cochlear implant – to be able to read. Years of not being able to hear speech had made reading and comprehension difficult. And it’s a wish that has been granted – Leo’s reading jumped over twenty levels in just a few months following switch-on.
“It’s amazing to see the person he has become. He was always a caring and helpful kid, but now he has more confidence in himself and what he can do. I still get teary when I think of what he has achieved. I am so proud of Leo, and grateful for all the support our family has received.”
Diagnosis puts Leo on a new path
“Before we knew about Leo’s hearing loss, we were constantly told he had speech difficulties,” says Jason. “I understood him, but many others didn’t, and that made it harder for him to make friends. He was having lots of speech therapy, but he couldn’t hear, so of course it wasn’t working well.”
Four years ago, Leo was diagnosed with Large Vestibular Aqueduct syndrome (LVAS), a condition where part of the inner ear is enlarged.
With this new diagnosis, the family were able to seek the right support for Leo. “He was initially given hearing aids and his speech started to improve. It was difficult knowing that Leo was struggling for so long because he couldn’t hear, but a great feeling to see him get support and watch his progress,” Jason recalls.
Cochlear implant helps Leo to read
Just six months later, Jason received a phone call that changed everything for Leo. “I got a call saying Leo could be a candidate for a cochlear implant. It was a big decision, and I was nervous about the surgery, but I wanted the best for him,” Jason explains.
Leo had surgery locally at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle, NSW.
When Leo’s cochlear implant was switched on, he immediately engaged with his world on a whole new level, according to Jason. “I remember him asking me constantly about everyday sounds – a bird, a fan, the fridge motor. It was so good to see him discovering things through sound.”
Since receiving his cochlear implant, Leo has developed speech, reading and comprehension skills beyond what his family had previously imagined possible. “He’s really doing well at school and you can see he believes in himself. His hearing loss does not hold him back, that’s for sure!” says Jason.
Leo steps up as a karate Senpai
Since Leo found karate he hasn’t looked back. “He kept asking if he could do karate, and we decided he should give it a go, even though we were worried his hearing loss might make it harder for him. Turns out we were wrong!” says Jason.
Leo excelled at karate, quickly moving up the ranks to achieve his green belt. Jason says that while Leo’s determination played a big part, the team at his local martial arts school also stepped up to support him.
“The Sensei started using the FM device Leo uses at school so that he could follow along with the instructions,” says Jason. “His first teacher at the school even learnt some Auslan (Australian sign language) to help communicate with him if hearing became difficult with the background noise.”
As a green belt, Leo was invited to become a Senpai, a member of the class which helps younger and new students with their movement and stance.
“Since he started doing this, we’ve seen his confidence grow in leaps and bounds – he’s always loved helping others so it makes sense that he would really take to this.”
RIDBC Remote Services support Leo at home
Leo and his family are supported by RIDBC Remote Services, allowing him to access the support he needs, from speech pathology to reading assistance, via video conferencing in his home. “Having support at home makes things much easier for Leo. He can concentrate and focus – he’s going so well and has really come a long way,” Jason says
Leo’s Teacher of the Deaf at RIDBC, Tim Byatt, says the sessions are about confidence as much as communication. “Our sessions with Leo are about increasing his ability to interpret high frequency sounds that can be hard to hear, broadening his vocabulary and developing social communication skills, such as storytelling. Much of this is about building not only the tools but the confidence to advocate for himself in any setting.
“By delivering the services in-home, we can involve his family in the sessions and help him embed these skills in daily life, at home and at school,” Tim explains. “It also means the sessions fit in with his school, sporting, and family commitments so that they become part of his life, not a disruption to it.”
Jason adds, “What has also been great for us is the way everyone has worked together, from the hospital to RIDBC and his teachers at school and karate. Leo has a team in his corner.”
It’s clear, though, that his biggest supporter of all is Jason, who never stops looking for ways to support Leo’s goals.
Leo recently made the transition from primary to high school, where he attends a local, mainstream school that also offers a class for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. Jason says this class complements the support Leo gets from RIDBC and is helping him to build life skills beyond the classroom. “They help him understand how to tell others what he needs, how to do everyday things with hearing loss, and as he gets older, they’ll find work experience for him to try working in an area he is interested in.”
As for what that interest is, Jason says that, like most kids, Leo’s plans change regularly. “Sometimes it’s working in video games or on YouTube, or being a police officer, a whole heap of things,” he laughs. “But whatever he decides to do, I have no doubt he’ll find his place in the world.”