Five-year-old Annie Fleming is about to start ‘big school’, thanks to technology – and plenty of grit.
Annie was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at birth, but her parents were determined she would start school with her peers.
“Annie failed the newborn screening test, twice,” Annie’s mum, Zoe Fleming, said.
“We were sad, we were shocked, we were confused – there is no history of hearing loss in the family so the diagnosis was from left field.
“We expected a healthy little baby and I suppose we were asking ‘why us?’”
Despite early diagnosis and intervention, getting Annie the support she needed in Batemans Bay wasn’t easy.
“I feel fortunate they picked it up from birth, because we were in the system from the beginning,” Mrs Fleming said.
“She got her first hearing aid at 10 weeks, then we went up to Canberra to The Shepherd Centre weekly for therapy when she was only three months old.
“It was very hard – Canberra is a four-hour round trip, and I had a two-year-old and a newborn.
“We tried to get her speech therapy through the public health system.
“It was 12 months before we were given our first appointment.
“In the meantime, we paid for our own speech therapy on a weekly basis, which becomes prohibitive.”
A cochlear implant was a game-changer for Annie.
She received the implant – a prosthetic hearing device – directly into her skull at just three-years-old.
The external processor processes sounds and sends them directly to her brain, bypassing the ear.
“It changed our world,” Mrs Fleming said.
“Her speech developed out of sight, and she was no longer as fatigued.”
Tele-intervention from the Wollongong Shepherd Centre was another step forward.
Annie now receives speech therapy, listening therapy and other crucial services through the internet.
“It cut out a seven-hour round trip,” Mrs Fleming said.
“We can sit in our home, look at the iPad and receive live therapy sessions.
“Without that sort of help I don’t know where we’d be.”
She said the whole family was proud of Annie’s achievements.
“Our goal has been to get her into mainstream schooling, with speech and listening on par with her peers, and that’s what we’ve done,” she said.
“She’s worked tirelessly every week for most of her life.”
Annie is most excited about extra quality time with big brother John.
“I think the best part will be going to the playground at John’s school, because sometimes he might be there,” Annie said.