Remote services help Tayte to talk

29/03/19
Tayte with his two sisters, Kaylee and Spencer

For children with hearing loss, early intervention is crucial to speech development, but for children based in regional and remote communities, access to services can prove a challenge. But for two-year-old cochlear implant recipient, Tayte, access to face-to-face and video sessions in his Alice Springs home has him talking up a storm.

Christina Talbot, Tayte's Speech Pathologist and Hearing Consultant at RIDBC Darwin says that one of the keys to successful early intervention is in providing these vital services to young children and their families in a familiar environment.

Christina provides speech pathology services to adults, children, and their families across the Northern Territory's remote communities. For Tayte's family, that means a combination of weekly sessions via video conferencing and face to face visits two to three times a year, when Christina conducts sessions in the family home.

Diagnosed with a hearing loss at birth, Tayte was initially given hearing aids, but it was quickly identified that he would be eligible for bilateral cochlear implants. Among the many things his family had to consider, the availability of local services was critical.

Tayte's mum, Shannan, says the decision to get cochlear implants was a big one, and her first instinct was to find out all she could, before deciding on the best option for her son. The family did a mountain of research and talked to specialists at RIDBC and Cochlear, as well as another local family who have a daughter with a cochlear implant. "It's a big decision – particularly when they are so small, and it involves surgery," she says.

At fourteen months old, Tayte received cochlear implants. The family had to travel to Darwin for the surgery, a sixteen-hour drive. While this meant being away from their home and support networks, Shannan says they were able to return home much quicker than she expected. "The surgeons were fantastic and were able to return to Alice Springs pretty quickly, it was less full-on than I had anticipated."

Of Tayte's 'switch on', Shannan says it was a special moment for the family.  "Our whole family was there, and he had access to some sound immediately, he had a great reaction," she recalls.

But the journey doesn’t end there; when a person receives cochlear implants, they require a range of support services to maximise their hearing and ensure they get the best outcomes. Christina says, at Tayte's age, it's all about working with parents to develop activities that can facilitate speech and language development. “We have only one hour a week with Tayte, whereas his parents spend many more hours interacting with him, so it’s critical that we empower them, and often we do this through games and activities that work around normal routine, such as playing, book-reading and even household chores, like cooking and washing."

Shannan says, without access to remote services and in-home visits from Christina, the family would have had to move closer to a major centre to access the right services for Tayte, leaving behind their family, friends and support network.  But, she says, with access to services in their home, Tayte is thriving.

"He's tracking really well, he talks to me just like any other two-year-old. From the beginning, he was a lot more responsive than he was with his hearing aid.  And he has adapted to life with cochlear implants really quickly – he even points to his ear and says 'battery' when it is going flat, so we know it is time to recharge it," she says.

In Australia today, over 12,000 children have a significant hearing loss, one baby is born with a significant hearing loss each day, and three children in every thousand will be diagnosed with a significant loss by the age of ten.

Shannan wants other families in remote and regional Australia to know that there are a host of services they can access. "It can feel overwhelming, particularly when you don't live near a city, but there are services out there that can come to you. For us, RIDBC have been fantastic, providing both the video conferencing through our TV and the face-to-face sessions at our place. For Tayte, it's been life-changing." 

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