You don’t remember every telephone conversation. But there are some you don’t forget. Such as the one I had in Durgapur, 160 km from Kolkata, with 19-year-old Angshu Jajodia, away at a college camp. We talked about how his parents had looked after me, the French toast I had for breakfast, the people I met at his home and what he was doing at the camp. It was, to all intents, a perfectly “normal” conversation. And if he did falter, it was barely discernible.
If I hadn’t been told that Angshu is hearing impaired, I probably would never have known. His parents told me that Angshu didn’t speak in infancy. But, it did not strike them then that their first-born might have a hearing disorder. When he was 3, Angshu was diagnosed as totally deaf. “I was so relieved when we finally knew why he was not speaking, that I wept,” recalls Angshu’s mother Madhumita. The Jajodias then decided to spend a month at the John Tracy Clinic Mission, Los Angeles.
Founded in 1942, its parent-centric programmes aim at dealing with and treating hearing disability using the spoken, rather than sign, language. “It changed our life,” says Madhumita. “Wherever we had taken Angshu in India, it was all gloom. At the clinic, we were met with cheer and positive energy.”
A different approach
The Tracy clinic differs also in its approach to deafness. Conventionally, it is held that children who are born deaf will also be dumb. In fact, they are also referred to as deaf and dumb and sent to special schools where they are taught sign language. These children often find it difficult, if not impossible, to be part of the mainstream. The Tracy clinic has proved that proper and timely intervention can teach a hearing-impaired child to be fluent in the spoken and written word.
In India, things are tougher as children have to grapple with two, sometimes three, languages. Angshu repeated class VII for just that reason. But, he never looked back after that. He passed the West Bengal Higher Secondary examination with a first division and scored more than 80% in computer science. He qualified for the English Honours course at Kolkata’s Presidency College.
All about courage
SAHAS (Speech and Hearing Action Society) translates appropriately into courage. It was formed by the Jajodias and a group of parents of children with hearing impairment. Shambhu Nath Jajodia is general secretary and Madhumita Jajodia, also the principal of Durgapur Women’s College, is its president. The society regularly trains and counsels parents, the primary caregiver, toward the end goal—the oral rehabilitation of their children with hearing disabilities.
The oral and aural development of a hearing-impaired child is facilitated through several methods. To begin with, the child is given a proper hearing aid, and then put through a verbal auditory programme to develop language skills. Several factors have to be kept in mind—the child’s age, degree of hearing disability, the age when the impairment was diagnosed, when the orientation began and the parents’ capability to handle the situation. SAHAS encourages the child’s talents to be identified and channelled into other forms of expression such as dance, drama and music. Over the years, SAHAS has built both a toy and book library for children and a library of research and referral matter for parents.
Every second Sunday, the parents meet at SAHAS. “We train them according to the standard oral multisensory method module we learnt at the John Tracy clinic, but the child’s progress depends a lot on the parents and the efforts they put in,” says Jajodia. The module encourages any form of speech so that the child never feels inhibited about talking. There is virtually no correction, even though the parent may weave the correct word into the reply.
So, what is different about the module? “Most methods only train the child and there is no follow-up at home. But, (learning and teaching) language is a 24-hour job,” says Shambhu Nath.
The ripple effect
SAHAS inspires people from all over the country. The first student at SAHAS was Bijita Biswas, detected with hearing loss when she was 4. “I had suspected this when she was just over a year old. The delay in diagnosis was caused by doctors,” says her mother, Manju. Bijita was born with no vision in her left eye. Now, even that has been treated. “I wept inconsolably when I realized she could not hear,” says Manju. Although, the Biswas family could have saved some time with the right medical guidance from their doctor, they were not too late.
“Detection and equipping with a hearing aid should be as early as possible, preferably before the child turns 5,” says Madhumita. After that, the hearing nerves stiffen, she adds. Today, Bijita, a juvenile diabetic who requires insulin twice a day, is in class X. “We only dreamt that one day she would call us ma and baba. We never imagined she would speak.” Bijita gives dance performances without any visual clues while her mother recites. “Parents have to work hard to bring their child to this level,” says Manju.
Bijoy Achari comes all the way from Purulia. His son, Abhiroop, was born with normal hearing. When he was a year old, a wrongly administered antibiotic led to hearing loss. Today, Abhiroop, the son of talented singers, can play the tabla. A student of class X, he scored 75% in the tests leading up to the board examinations, and can also speak fluently. He plans to study chemistry. “We put him through a sound awareness programme, that drew his attention to all sorts of sounds,” recalls his father. “In the process, we learnt, perhaps relearnt, to be more alert to all kinds of sounds, too. I would make him listen to the rustle of leaves in the breeze, the banging of a door, footsteps as people walk by, even the sound of paper being crumpled, and running water,” says Achari. This helped the boy become more alert to sounds and to relate them to the source. The first word the boy spoke was, dao (give). “He seemed to be asking for language,” says his father.
Still spreading hope
Not all parents, however, are able to sustain their efforts. About 30-40% just give up. But, SAHAS has positively impacted the lives of more than 200 children from all over India, Bangladesh and Nepal. All of them now study in a “normal” school.
As we leave, six-year-old Surya Som comes in with his parents from Kolkata. He was undergoing speech therapy at a conventional centre for 18 months, during which he didn’t speak even a word. Amit Som, his father, knows that at the moment the road seems all uphill. But, SAHAS has given him hope. “I am convinced my son will speak one day.”
FIVE TIPS FROM SAHAS
• Make a news book with drawings by the child. Parents can write the news in simple language
• Make a day, date, month, year calendar and work on identifying the correct slot every day
• Turn to stories with pictures, acting, role-playing with the child. Encourage interaction, make language a living thing. SAHAS president Madhumita says: “Stories are an important part of the process. The faster you get the child hooked to reading, the better.”
• Work on puzzles
• Make a book of receptive words. Keep adding to that and revise words that the child already knows. Keep reinforcing the word. The child will use the word when the need arises
Abhik Mukhopadhyay’s life changed after he joined SAHAS
Children at the library
Renu, a hearing-impaired girl, gives a dance performance
A parents’ meeting
Contact Speech And Hearing Action Society, Roudra Basani, Sidhu Kanu Park, Post Office Bamunara, Durgapur—713 212, West Bengal; phone: 0343-253 4710, mobile: 09434009877; email: gensec@SAHASindia.org, jajodia_SAHAS@rediffmail.com
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