ACT News

Deaf boy starts kinder at Mawson Primary thanks to help from the Shepherd Centre

Thanks to help from The Shepherd Centre, five-year-old Jovern Loh will start school with speech and language skills on par with children his own age.

Like hundreds of others, five-year-old Jovern Loh is looking forward to starting school on Monday, but unlike his kindergarten peers he's had an added hurdle to overcome.

When Jovern was just three days old his parents, Li San Loh and Hui Foong Loh, were shocked to find out he had moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears when he failed the mandatory test.

Jovern Loh, 5, pictured with his mother Li San Loh, will start kinder with the same speech and language skills as his ...
Jovern Loh, 5, pictured with his mother Li San Loh, will start kinder with the same speech and language skills as his peers, despite being born with hearing loss. Photo: Graham Tidy

"Being the first child, everything was new to us and when we were told about the newborn hearing screening test we didn't really think much about it," Mrs Loh said.

"We weren't sure how to take it. We were a little bit lost at the beginning."

The family started an early intervention program with The Shepherd Centre when Jovern was still a baby and by 2½ months old he was wearing his first hearing aids.

"We are a bilingual family, we got assurance and the encouragement to continue using the languages we use at home so he doesn't miss out on anything and there was a push to let him use his hearing aid at all times when he is awake," she said.

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Thanks to the support, Jovern now has speech and language skills that are on a par with hearing children his age.

He will be one of seven ACT children with hearing loss to begin kinder at a mainstream ACT public school after therapy at the Shepherd Centre.

Across NSW, the ACT and Tasmania, 48 Shepherd Centre graduates will begin kinder.

When Jovern was a baby, Mrs Loh said the couple feared he wouldn't attend mainstream school, but having experts explain the implications of his hearing loss helped them come to terms with it quickly.

"We've been told over and over again the most important thing is giving him the devices he needs to ensure he can hear clearly, so he's able to speak clearly as well," she said.

Mrs Loh said there was a perception all people with hearing loss had to rely on Auslan, but that was an "old school" idea, with many never needing to learn sign language.

"Our goal was always to ensure his language was age appropriate and he had the ability to talk and speak like anyone else," she said.

Meeting parents of older children with hearing loss also helped.

"That experience and knowledge was really good; it just gives us that assurance and confidence he will be able to speak clearly and language won't be a problem," she said.

The ACT education system's treatment of children with disabilities came under scrutiny last year when a cage erected in a classroom for a boy with autism sparked an inquiry.

Failures with disability inclusion in schools Australia-wide was highlighted in a report from a senate inquiry released earlier this year.

All state and territory education ministers have agreed to publish the level of disability inclusion of all schools on the MySchool website in coming months.

But the ACT education directorate was unable to provide a breakdown of the number of students with disability at each ACT public school due to privacy and confidentially reasons, a spokesman said.