My name is Shannon and our son’s name is Dennis. We are from the aboriginal community of Bella Bella(Heiltsuk), in the North Central Coast of British Columbia. You can reach us, 300 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, by air or ferry.
I have lived all my life in this community of 1300 people. We have many services to support our population including a community school that runs from nursery to Grade 12, general grocery store, hospital and health centre, social development centre, community hall, daycare, seniors building, and youth centre. However, our community hospital does not deliver babies; mothers leave the village to await the birth of their babies.
And so, Dennis’ journey began in Surrey Memorial Hospital, where he was born at 34 weeks on June 2nd, 2008. When Dennis was 2 days old he had a newborn hearing screening test, which he did not pass. Further testing by an audiologist confirmed that Dennis has a severe to profound unilateral hearing loss in his left ear.
We didn’t know what to think at the time. It was the beginning of a grieving process for us, for sure. At the forefront of our minds was for Dennis to gain weight, and for us to return home. It wasn’t easy being in a city we barely knew. Although it gave us a bit of time to think over what we had been told, we didn’t take it all in. All we knew was that we had our baby, and that we wanted to take him home and introduce him to our families.
The information mailed to us was really helpful but I didn’t connect with early intervention services right away.When Dennis was eight months or so, I started to explore outreach services. After speaking with A Guide By Your Side parent, Irealized the value of the help and care I could get over the phone or by emails. Even though I lived in such a remote community, I learnt that I wasn’t alone. Outreach services from a centre specializing in services for children who are deaf / hard of hearing observed and assessed Dennis, and gave us tools to help him develop his speech, language and communication. I started to see the big difference that this support could make as we dealt with Dennis’ hearing loss. From then on, I used it as much as I could, and I learnt a lot over time. Even today, we continue to practice a lot of the communication tools we learned through early intervention services.
One of the things I did was to purposely put Dennis in preschool, so he had the opportunity to interact with other kids his age, as well as his broader community. I spoke to him in detail all the time, and we read to him a lot. At the same time, we allowed him to be independent. This wasn’t always easy, as our families wanted to do a lot of things for him. We had to let them know what his needs were, but also that he had to learn to do things for himself, and that this would benefit him as he grew.
When he started Kindergarten, a sound field FM system was set up in the classroom. It was a learning curve for the teachers, but they understand the system now and it works well. He also receives some one on one support within the classroom from an aide. These services help to keep him engaged in the classroom, and Dennis is doing very well at school. We’re also very fortunate to have a Speech and Language program in our community that Dennis attends twice a week. Dennis’ communication level has really improved, and he’s currently working on some of the softer sounds like ‘s’,’ch’, and ‘th’.
My job involves advocacy around our community. This really helped me become an advocate for my son. I tell Dennis’s story to each person who works with him. I believe that advocating for Dennis benefits not only him, but everyone in our small community. Dennis is also becoming his own advocate; as well as being a very good observer, he’s very vocal.
The past few years have been a challenge, but I was determined to make it work. Today, I still encounter struggles but the positive outcomes for Dennis make it all worthwhile. For example, our remote location can make visits to the Ear, Nose & Throat specialists at BC Children’s Hospital a challenge. In Dennis’s earlier years, we would travel down there for annual appointments. These have been valuable opportunities for us to get information and updates on Dennis’ so it was important for us to overcome the hurdle of distance. We have been able to get some travel expenses for Dennis and one escorting adult through the First Nation Health Authority. We choose to make these family trips though, so we save to make this possible. Taking the ferry to Vancouver Island, and driving from there has made for fun family trips.
Over this time, I’ve gained a greater awareness of what is needed to raise a child who is hard of hearing. Much of this is due to the outreach services and the programs that we have been able to access. Today, I am proud to be a Guide By Your Side Parent Guide. I am happy to be able to offer my support and share my experience with other families who have children that are deaf or hard of hearing. I find that being aboriginal and helping families not only guides them, but helps me to grow as a parent too.
For more information on unilateral hearing loss, please go to the BC Early Hearing Program website at: http://www.phsa.ca/our-services/programs-services/bc-early-hearing-program/understanding-hearing-loss/about-hearing-loss
For additional resources tailored particularly for Aboriginal families, please go to the BC Early Hearing Program website at: http://www.phsa.ca/our-services/programs-services/bc-early-hearing-program/support-services/resources-for-aboriginal-families