Forcefully delivered, uncompromisingly direct and usually accompanied by a furrowed brow, ‘Out’ has been Tom’s instruction of choice for some months, dating back to the hazy pre-meningitic days when we sometimes said no to his insistent requests. He has found a broad range of uses for ‘out’ – indicating his desire to leave the house, extricate a favourite car from a toy box tangle, get at food in a container or opening a cupboard door. It’s a useful word when you’re not quite two and issues of correctness just don’t figure – it gets your point across and usually delivers results. We did what I suspect most parents did; chuckled indulgently at how cute our oh-so-serious son was and did his bidding, more often than not mimicking him. There was plenty of time for building the correct vocabulary later. As it turns out, we were right but not without it looking highly unlikely for a time.
Yesterday I got home from a day in London and called ‘Hello Tom’ from the kitchen doorway. Engrossed in a game with his Granny and at some distance away, Tom didn’t respond. Of course he didn’t, he has had his implant barely a week and is almost certainly unable to distinguish between voice and noise at any distance. But we know this will come because we’ve seen what he can do already.
‘Tom, look it’s daddy’ says Granny, who’s kneeling on the floor. She’s at his level and near the microphone, situated in the coil magnetically attached to the right hand side of his head. He looks up to her and then turns round; no visual cues have alerted him to my presence. He’s heard and understood and responded. Then he does what every father loves and comes running to me shouting ‘Daddy!!!’ with a big smile on his face, demanding a cuddle. You just can’t beat that.
Tom is keen on cuddles. I don’t doubt that there’s a seed of affection in there but he’s not above a bit of exploitation when he’s got the parent of choice in his emotional grip. Cuddles bring with them a height advantage which enables the scanning of normally invisible kitchen surfaces and access to handles of unsecured cupboards. He knows this is where we keep the good stuff and we can’t help but find this deviousness endearing.
‘Apple!, ‘Suma!’ – his eyes alight on the fruit bowl. Picking the Satsuma up, he offers it to me and says ‘peel’. Clear as day. No more the ubiquitous ‘Out!’; in with the sophisticated, food-specific ‘peel’. I sense a Granny at work.
Like any good servile father I do as I’m bid; vainly try and restrict how many segments are crammed in his mouth at once and then watch in amazement as Granny’s request for Tom to ‘put the peel in the bin’ is followed to the letter.
The Cochlear Implant Team and our Teacher for the Deaf have all, in the gentlest and kindest of manners, encouraged us to round our expectations down.
‘These things take time’
‘He needs to get used to the new sounds’
Tom doesn’t appear to agree. Just as he’s taken to running and trying to jump while his balance is still off (he corners like a drunk – imagine one wrist tied to a tent peg and trying to run away in a Laurel and Hardy style), Tom has decided to carry on talking. As far as his expressive language goes, he’s picking up three or four new words a day while his receptive language is developing too as the bin and daddy examples show. The implant is working – it’s allowing Tom the access to sound he needs to do what all toddlers his age are capable of; the phenomenal, sponge-like acquisition of language.
So we’ve had a bit of a flyer out of the blocks. Tom started from a really strong position; he had a fairly large vocabulary for a child his age when he was deafened, the period of silence was relatively short at three months and he kept using most of his words throughout that period. On top of that, after periods of helplessness and waiting, we finally had a concrete way of helping and so sought out the best advice we could.
Answering ‘Nottingham’ to the ‘where did you get your implant done?’ to most people in our new Cochlear World and the response, sometimes tinged with a little envy, is invariably positive. They’ve been implanting children longer than anyone else in the country and have done more than anyone else. Read the research papers and the same Nottingham-based names crop up over and again. These are guys with an enviable reputation and we struggle to fault the care we’ve had. That praise extends through to our marvellous Teacher for the Deaf, Tanya Sorrenti.
For us though, the softly, softly approach to therapeutic aftercare didn’t feel like enough. A simple message from my teaching days loitered in my mind:
‘High expectations, high achievement’
Tom was born to talk. To watch him enthusiastically take up signing provided further proof. We had to give Tom the very best and expect great things. We hunted around for inspiration and discovered the John Tracy Clinic. Based in LA, the clinic offers free correspondence courses to the families of deafened children. These explain and offer methods of helping children develop language and monitoring their progress. The first lesson arrived last week and it looks good; it offers a structure and, more importantly, a brand of undiluted enthusiasm that the Americans do so much better than us.
This week also brought our first session with Jacqueline Stokes of AV UK. Based near Oxford, Jacqueline and her team are pioneers of auditory verbal therapy in the UK; an approach to teaching deaf children the skills they need to listen and acquire language. Based on one session and a viewing of its video recording, I believe Jacqueline may be on to something. I have never been told off that much in 20 years but to see the attentiveness in Tom’s face and to witness the results as we’ve followed her techniques – what’s dignity for anyway?
The implant has thrown him back into the noisy, chatty world and he loves it.