Why We Believe in Total Communication

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Total Communication involves incorporating all means of communication including sign language, gestures, body language, written and visual aids, listening, lip reading, and speech to educate a child with hearing loss.

It is a common misconception, even more so in rural India, that if a child is deaf, he or she must use a hearing aid and learn to speak, and that it is the only way to communicate. While it certainly is possible, it may not be most effective and surely isn’t the only way. In our work across rural West Bengal and Assam we have come across several factors that affect the use of hearing aids. We interviewed several parents of deaf children that visit our Sadhan Resource Centres at a parents training workshop. Here are three snippets.

Dharitri Boro, 6 years old, was diagnosed with hearing impairment at 4. Her mother, Pronita Boro, realised that her daughter wasn’t responding to calls from two feet away and had her screened. She eventually heard of VAANI and started to bring her daughter here. She received a hearing aid for Dharitri from a Government SSA health camp. In the following months Dharitri was enrolled in primary school and received some speech therapy. It was all going fine until the hearing aid stopped working. Due to the lack of service centers in the rural areas of Kamrup, Pronita had to travel 20 km to Guwahati to have the aids checked. But she couldn’t afford the cost of repairs.

Chanchala Das suspected that her daughter, Sumitra, could have a problem when she was only 6 months old. But she had no idea how to take action. She initially took Sumitra to a local doctor in her village. Only an infection was treated. Later, she took her to Guwahati where the doctors recommended an audiometry test where she was diagnosed with hearing impairment. But she couldn’t afford a hearing aid.

Dibjyoti Mondol wasn’t reacting to sounds when he was around a year old and his father Pankaj took him to a hospital in Guwahati. He was diagnosed with hearing impairment and the doctors recommended that he use a pocket model hearing aid. He was put in a regular school but barely assimilated anything because of the lack of supplementary training on how to best use the hearing aid. He eventually stopped wearing the aid because it made him feel differentiated from the rest of the children.

These are just three examples of why hearing aids aren’t always used. Mostly commonly, we’ve seen that parents can’t afford them, have no access to repairs and maintenance, or have no access to proper training that needs to be given to be able to fully utilise a hearing aid.

This is exactly why we at VAANI believe in Informed Choice and Total Communication. There may be several reasons why a child can’t fully utilise a hearing-aid, but this should not stop the parent from teaching the child other ways to communicate, as the early years of development are the most important. A parent must be educated on the multiple means of communication that exist and make an informed decision on what is best for his or her child.

At VAANI, it is about empowering the parent to take the right decisions for their children. Not so different from the hearing world now, is it?

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