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Seeing Voices

Aditya Govindaraj writes about how a mother’s quest to help her child overcome hearing disability has led to the creation of Sadhya Educational Trust

The ability to hear and, more importantly, understand and speak sounds is one of the most challenging hurdles for a hearing-impaired child. Normally, a hearing child listens to speech and sounds every waking moment—from the time of birth or even before. On the other hand, a hearing-impaired child misses out on everything—from birth till she is diagnosed and given hearing aids. Hearing impairment at birth affects speech and becomes a ‘double handicap’. Even if a child responds to loud sounds, she will not pick up speech if she does not hear language spoken at normal levels. This often leads to late diagnosis of the problem. Parents need to act when the child is just a few months old, to help her take advantage of the brain’s neural plasticity to be able to learn the spoken language. How can parents teach such a child to understand and speak sounds?

Chennai-based Sadhya Educational Trust, founded in 2002 by Neela Govindaraj, show how. ‘Sadhya’, in Sanskrit, means attainable and, to her, the goal is making hearing-impaired children speak. The Trust works at empowering parents, usually the mother, through information and training. She says, “As a parent of a hearing-impaired child, I know that parents are the key people in making the child speak. I, therefore, wanted to help other parents take on the responsibility.”

Ms Govindaraj uses auditory-verbal therapy, an innovative teaching method she learnt at the Education Audiology and Research Centre (EAR Centre) in Mumbai and, subsequently, at John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles. The therapy teaches the child to interpret sounds as a meaningful language which requires intensive cooperation from parents in a natural environment, through hearing aids or cochlear implants. “The method is built on the premise that the brain of a hearing-impaired child learns language the same way as a hearing child. It is not taught through lip-reading but through listening and speech. This means that the child must be trained at an early age,” she says. Ms Govindaraj conducts one-hour individual sessions twice a week, setting goals and demonstrating to the parent the method of communicating with the child. “We play the roles in class with real objects such as toys, puppets, dolls, charts, etc. We tell the parent how to involve other family members and how to create the best environment at home for acquiring language skills,” she adds. Since they are the child’s very own special educators, classes are structured in a way that goals are constantly reviewed and set to ensure progress. People from all strata of the society come to Sadhya for help.

About how she learnt auditory-verbal therapy, Ms Govindaraj says, “When my child was diagnosed with hearing impairment, I was lucky to be referred to an early intervention centre in 1984—EAR Centre. My family helped get reading materials from London. I enrolled for a correspondence course for parents from John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles and also attended the summer course. I kept learning from various people for the next 10 years. I also did my Bachelor’s in special education recently which has reinforced my understanding in teaching.”

Sadhya also offers good quality hearing-aids at reasonable rates—at times, free. It offers parents the facility to get moulds, batteries and repairs done under one roof. Ms Govindaraj conducts interactive sessions among new and older parents, counsellors, hearing-aid specialists and ENT doctors as well. Currently, Sadhya Educational Trust is funded by Ms Govindaraj’s family and private donations. Apart from enrolling children for Sadhya Educational Trust, they also accept financial donations which are exempt under Section 80(G) of the Income-Tax Act.

Ms Govindaraj is Aditya’s mother. Aditya writes from his first hand experience. — Editor

Sadhya Educational Trust

Flat #13, Temple Rise,
261, RK Mutt Road, RA Puram,
Chennai — 600028
Ph: 09380638516 (Chennai number)
Email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.sadhya.org/

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