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Katie McKenna was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss a little less than two weeks after she was born, and her parents Abbie and Martin McKenna were told that their daughter would require hearing aids. By the age of twenty months, Katie had become profoundly deaf. She had also become uncomfortable with wearing the hearing aids.
Abbie and Martin worked hard to research every possible way of helping their daughter. Whilst exploring a parent’s forum page on the National Deaf Children’s Society Website, they came across the term Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT) and the charity AVUK, a foundation using therapy to help deaf babies and young children learn to listen and speak.
Abbie was amazed by the stories and videos on the charity’s website:
"At the ages of four and five these children's use of speech and language was indistinguishable from that of hearing children," she said.
Currently, AVT is not available on the NHS in Northern Ireland. However, Abbie and Martin were determined to get in touch with the charity. They took Katie to London for an assessment in September 2012. Even within the initial 90 minute session, Katie managed to say ‘up’: a substantial achievement at that time. From there, both she and Martin were sold on the treatment, and Katie began to have monthly therapy sessions in London.
Combined with a new cochlear implant (a small electronic device designed to provide a sense of sound to the profoundly deaf), the AVT sessions have seen Katie grow in both skill and confidence.
"Katie is three years old now and her language is at the level of a two-and-a-half-year-old and she is catching up really fast," says Abbie.
"She talks to her brothers (now aged 7 and 5) all the time and they're very good at talking back to her. She can also sign. Both boys have some sign language and they know to tap her on the shoulder and sign if she isn't wearing the external part of her implant.”
"The whole family can sign. Although Katie is naturally oral and we want her to speak and to use her implant to its optimum, we're very conscious that she is deaf and will always be deaf.”
There is, of course, controversy amongst some sections of the deaf community regarding treatments such as AV. However, Abbie believed that the therapy was the right decision for her daughter.
"We're not trying to make her not deaf. We just want her to be able to fulfil her potential and develop her language to an age-appropriate level so she can attend a mainstream school. That's important so that she doesn't feel excluded” she said.
Rob Doole, managing director of AllEarPlugs.com, said:
‘AV therapy obviously has exciting potential. Any treatment which can help those with hearing loss enjoy more fulfilling lives has to be a positive.’