From Darkness to Light

“Life is not a continuum of pleasant choices, but of inevitable problems that call for strength, determination and hard work.”

Every one of us, at some moment of time, must have realized the essence of this ancient Indian saying which rightly describes the nature of our existence and also suggests the path of succour. On appreciating Ahona’s difficulties and now being a part of the SAHAS network, we realize that ‘Strength, Determination and Hard Work’ is clearly the only medicinal mixture that can make our deaf children talk.

Ahona, our daughter was born on a crisp October day in 2006 at a reputed health care facility in Kolkata. She was a term baby, her birth weight being 2.3 kg which though below average, was not critically low (<1500gm). Her prenatal period was eventful with no evidence of viral illness in her mother in early pregnancy. Her birth and infancy had nothing to suggest that she could nurse a sensori-neural hearing loss. Her developmental milestones were all at par with her peers. She seemed to be a very bright infant, interacted with everyone, established quick communication with elders and other children and fiddled with various objects – all like a regular child.  There was no reason to suspect that there was anything amiss. At an early age she showed startle response to loud noise. She also displayed cooing-babbling at the right age. Ahona contracted measles at eight months of age, just before the scheduled vaccine for same and suffered a dip in her growth curve for some months. She soon recovered in all other spheres of development but displayed a serious lag in her language skills, babbling by herself till one and half years, uttering monotonous sounds with no meaningful words. As a practicing paediatrician I knew about BERA (Brainstem Evoked Response Audiometry) and was used to sending babies with perinatal risk factors for this screening test. But for Ahona, in the absence of significant risks and with no recorded family history on either side, reinforced by elders that many regular children talk late, we simply took the path of watchful expectancy. We even got her admitted to a play school for more stimuli and peer contact.

Ultimately, however, my training as a paediatrician got the better of me as father. Ahona underwent a BERA test at two years one month of age just to rule out hearing loss. But alas! Our daughter tested positive, showing a moderate (left ear 55-60 dB threshold) to severe (right ear 90 dB threshold) hearing impairment. All our dreams seemed to shatter; the world around us came crashing down. We were at a total loss, groping in the darkness that had begun to envelop us in its billowing cloak, trying desperately to find light at the end of the tunnel.

Desperately, I contacted my ENT and audiologist friends from my college days. The time had come to approach them with my own problems. On the advice of one of my good friends from this circle we got Ahona fitted with binaural hearing aids and started her on regular speech therapy sessions at one of Kolkata’s well-known speech and hearing clinics. Little did we know that from here we would be led from the proverbial “Darkness to Light!”  At the clinic we met a couple from Asansol whose deaf daughter, a little older than our own little Ahona, was actually speaking! We got talking to them and learnt of an entirely different approach they were using – ‘language therapy’ as against ‘speech therapy’. As we talked with them and the concepts seeped into us, our despair transformed into hope. This couple made us aware of SAHAS at Durgapur where this approach was being practiced and disseminated. After some initial misgivings we made up our minds to visit SAHAS.

What we saw at SAHAS was pioneering – the concept of parent meets, sharing of anxiety amongst parents, helping each other in these emotionally taxing times – a concept almost absent in the Indian ways of treatment, where the doctor seems to be an alien being, thrusting some Greek and Latin jargons upon patients. Truly, SAHAS is a rare difference! As we went through our training sessions, we were overwhelmed by what we learnt about the process of oral-aural rehabilitation based on the multisensory approach which we found to be the most physiological way of communication for our deaf children and appears to be the only option for them to catch up with their regular peers in terms of language development. SAHAS has revolutionized parents’ approach in dealing with hearing-impaired children. Already we are getting results with Ahona: she is more expressive and enjoys our company more. Her monotonous utterances have decreased. Previously there was a serious dearth of language input from us. At SAHAS we learnt that ‘surrounding’ our little deaf girl with meaningful language is the main ingredient in the recipe of oral rehabilitation. We are happily doing just that! At the baser level we realized that the method followed at SAHAS is ideal for all-round development of every child whether hearing-impaired or not which, if adhered to, will surely help all children to achieve their endowed potential and be productive to themselves and the society.

Lastly I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to everyone in our SAHAS family who are always eager to help us at every point where we are stuck with Ahona. Let our seniors give us courage to work with our child to help her achieve her optimal language potential. Long live SAHAS! Long live its endeavor to make thousands of our hearng-impaired children talk.

Dr. Anjan Chatterjee, MBBS, DCH, DNB (Ped)

Mrs. Rimlly Chatterjee