Rome hearing well, couldn’t wait to start school

Rome and Sarah Nepia.
Rome and Sarah Nepia.
Rome Nepia turned five in October and couldn’t wait to start school. It’s a great reward for years of hard work by Rome, his parents and his therapists, because he is profoundly deaf in both ears.

For various reasons Rome didn’t have his hearing tested until he was four months old. By then, parents Sarah and Mike had their suspicions that he might have a hearing problem when he didn’t react to sounds like clapping.

Following extensive audiology testing, Rome was referred to The Hearing House – an Auckland-based charity for deaf children and their families. Within weeks he was fitted with Ministry of Health-funded hearing aids but, unfortunately, they made no difference to his hearing.

When he was nine months old Rome was fitted with two cochlear implants, the second thanks to fundraising from the family’s National Park community and a grant from the Angel Foundation charity.

Seeing his reaction when his implants were ‘switched on’ a couple of weeks later was a special moment, says Sarah. ‘He got used to hearing sound pretty quickly and became more curious about noise.’

Over the years Rome has had intensive auditory-verbal therapy from The Hearing House therapists.

‘It’s been a huge challenge for me,’ says Sarah. ‘As he’s got older, his interests have changed so we’ve got to keep finding new ways to keep him interested.’

The Nepia family now lives in Taumarunui and, in addition to visiting The Hearing House and home visits once a term, much of Rome’s therapy is via Skype.

Lydia O’Connor, Rome’s current auditory-verbal therapist, says therapy via Skype, or ‘TeleCHAT’ has been rolled out to clients of The Hearing House over the past three years and about 50 percent of her therapy case load is now delivered this way. Lydia emails Sarah a lesson plan prior to the Skype session and suggests toys and other household items to have on hand.

‘As well as less travelling for families who can live anywhere north of Mt Ruapehu, therapy via TeleCHAT means it’s easier to follow the child’s interests and he or she is at home, which is their natural learning environment. It also reinforces that our role is to coach and guide the parent, not jump in and do it for them.’

Lydia says a recent Australian study showed results for children who receive TeleCHAT therapy are on a par with those for face-to-face therapy.

All the hard work has paid off in Rome’s case. He has caught up on his milestones, has been attending pre-school since he was three and his latest tests show his language is just below normal.

‘There are little things we’re still working on, like getting him to expand and finish off his sentences, but we’re really stoked. It’s such a relief after all the hard work,’ says Sarah.

Rome’s baby brother is due to be born in mid-November and will have his hearing tested as soon as possible under the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programme.

Sarah and Mike encourage parents of newborns to have their babies tested early.

‘The older the baby is, the harder it is to do the testing because they are more alert, and if there is a problem, the sooner you find out about it, the sooner you can get the right help,’ says Sarah.

Children may have implants funded for both ears if their specialist recommends it

From 1 July 2014 children under 19 years of age who are newly assessed as needing a cochlear implant can receive Ministry of Health funding for one ear or both ears, whichever is clinically recommended by their specialist.

Click here for further information on funding and criteria for cochlear implants, here for further information on the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme, and here for further information on early intervention services.

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Page last updated: 29 October 2014