By Vicky Chan
Carel du Toit Center (CDT) has been at the forefront of hearing loss education for the past 45 years—offering a mainstream education and speech development programs for children aging from infancy to 10 years old in Cape Town, South Africa. Although an estimated 6,000 babies are diagnosed annually with permanent bilateral hearing loss in the country, early detection and intervention programs are extremely uncommon. CDT is one of the only institutions in the area that offers an early intervention program for children with hearing loss and their parents.
Because the damaging effects of hearing loss are widely dismissed by South African legislation, 72% of the nation’s hospitals do not offer any form of hearing tests and fewer than 1% plan to implement newborn hearing screenings. Consequently, 90% of newborns do not have access to a hearing test and families do not receive information about pediatric hearing loss.
Hearing loss is usually detected only after the child’s caregiver notices unusual behavior or speech and language delays. The average age of diagnosis for a child with hearing loss in South Africa is 31 months old, and the typical age at which one is first fitted with hearing aids is 39 months. This is well beyond the critical time period for a child's speech and language development, which depends immensely on the brain’s responses to hearing in the first two years of life.
To help parents understand their child’s hearing loss, the school provides a family-centered early intervention program in their CHAT (Children Hear And Talk) Centre. Coaching families about how to cope with hearing loss is a key component in teaching a child to talk. Parents are encouraged to attend weekly sessions at the CHAT Centre where they are taught to incorporate speech into their family’s daily routine so their child can continue to develop language and social skills at home. The CHAT also provides weekly sessions for children who are too young for school so they can be enrolled in an early intervention program as soon as possible.
“This is your journey with your child and you are absolutely equipped to teach your child to talk through listening,” one teacher says of CHAT. “It may not have been what you were expecting—but embrace it.”
The school employs more than 60 staff, including teachers, early interventionists, social workers, audiologists, psychologists, and speech therapists, who strive to create a natural environment that promotes listening experiences and intensive speech training. Students are fitted with the appropriate hearing technology and learn with the support of the school staff and their parents.
“I had a passion for special needs children and ended up in deaf education,” reflects an CDT educator. Echoing this sentiment, another teacher comments, “Teaching a child a new word or concept everyday makes it very rewarding. You are changing their lives on a daily basis.”
CDT understands that early diagnosis and intervention is the cornerstone for obtaining the best outcome for infants with hearing loss, which is why the center also partners with social services and South Africa’s State Health Department to provide equipment and personnel to test high-risk babies in the largest hospital in West Cape. With a mission to ensure all children in South Africa can function optimally in a hearing world, CDT is making strides to change outcomes for those with hearing loss nationwide.
For more, visit http://careldutoit.co.za/.