Community makes a difference in the life of trilingual youngster
“Mumma, I can hear the birdies.”
Ordinarily it’s a statement that would not provoke much reaction from a parent. But for Inga Wang her son’s simple observation gave her “watery eyes”.
“He pointed and said ‘It’s coming from there’.”
Inga’s 4-year-old son Matthias Berndt was born deaf. He was fitted with hearing aids when he was 4 months old, but they weren’t giving him enough access to sound and he struggled with identifying the direction sound came from.
He received cochlear implants two and a half years later in September 2016 and the birdie moment came not long after the devices were switched on.
Inga says when Matthias, who is German and Chinese, was born and failed the hearing screening she was “quite optimistic”.
“I didn’t think it was really serious. I even told my husband ‘don’t worry, what are the chances of that happening to us?’.”
Husband Clemens Berndt was a little more realistic and was mentally prepared when further testing confirmed the diagnosis and the family was told that Matthias is deaf and needed hearing aids.
Inga, however, took the news hard.
Without thinking Inga’s first question was “by what age will he recover from this?”. When reality hit, and they told her he wouldn’t recover she “had a complete breakdown”.
The Auckland couple supported each other through the grief of learning that their son was deaf and realised that things could have been much worse.
“People with hearing disabilities can live very normal, successful and productive lives,” Clemens says.
Inga and Clemens began bringing Matthias to The Hearing House for weekly Auditory-Verbal Therapy sessions and further testing revealed that hearing aids weren’t helping Matthias enough.
They made the most of the services offered by The Hearing House – they started attending music therapy, playgroups and seminars and were introduced to another family that had chosen cochlear implants for their child.
Inga says when the time came to make the decision about cochlear implants for Matthias it was an easy choice.
“The Hearing House gave us the emotional support as well, not just the practical things,” Inga says.
Clemens says: “They helped normalise the thoughts that my child has this particular challenge, but with the right approach and technology it’s really not an issue.”
The couple agree that having full access to sound via cochlear implants was helpful in further developing Matthias’ personality.
“He says his favourite things are ‘talking a lot and eating a lot’,” Inga says. “He’s a very social kid. He loves talking to new people.”
Matthias also has a love of music. Before he had cochlear implants he used to enjoy music by feeling the vibrations through his hands. Now he listens with his ears and regularly attends Mainly Music sessions.
“The cochlear implants are a tool for him learning language,” Inga says, which is particularly useful as the Berndt-Wang household is trilingual. Thanks to their parents’ heritage Matthias, and his brother Leonhard, 7, speak German, Mandarin and English.
Clemens says he was concerned about Matthias getting the right level of support at kindergarten and when he starts school, but says those concerns have gone away.
“He’s a very bright kid and with the right level of support he will be awesome.”
The couple say the support they have received since Matthias was born has been a crucial part in helping the family adjust.
“We had great experiences with Starship Children’s Hospital, The Hearing House and the surgeons. Everyone has been very supportive and forth coming,” Clemens says.
“For us The Hearing House is a really key piece in the community of our family.”
Inga says a particularly special moment for her was when Matthias was in China recently and answered a young cousin’s question about why he had “those things” on his ears.
“It was the first time I had heard him explain it to someone else. He said ‘because I need them to hear, because without them I can’t hear’.
“He wasn’t annoyed or embarrassed. He just said it. The Hearing House is absolutely normal for him and talking to his cousin like that just shows the experience has been so positive for him.”
Matthias’ Auditory-Verbal Therapist Alexandra Crosbie says the youngster is “making very pleasing progress and is a listening and speaking child”.
She says he accepted his cochlear implants from day one, and always wants to wear them.
“Matthias enjoys interacting and talking and will switch between English and Mandarin in therapy depending on who he is addressing.
“Therapy sessions have moved to monthly and this is an indication of how well Matthias is doing and the commitment Inga and his family have shown to help him develop his listening and spoken language skills,” Alexandra says.
The family is right behind Loud Shirt Day 2018 and is looking forward to getting their workplace, kindy and school on board and hunting out their loud clothes for the annual fundraiser on September 28.
Clemens says it is a wonderful vehicle for raising awareness of deaf children who can listen and speak, and of vital organisations like The Hearing House and the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme.
“They will always have a disability, but it’s not actually a disability anymore because they can do so many things.”