The earlier a child with hearing impairment receives help, the more likely it is that they will learn to communicate verbally. Our deaf club is the only place in St Petersburg which helps babies as young as 4 months. Just as importantly, their parents are supported as they come to terms with their child's disability and learn how to lobby for treatment and education for their child. As a result many of "our" children go on to join mainstream kindergartens.
Disability still carries a strong stigma in Russian society. When parents discover that their child has impaired hearing they usually find it difficult to find information or medical help. The result can be depression and social isolation. Their child also misses out on valuable help in the vital first years of life when the ground work is laid for communication and relationships. Most deaf children in Russia are educated separately and find it difficult to take part in mainstream society.
Parents with children aged 4 months to 3 years to can come to the weekly deaf club, which offers support for the whole family. A speech therapist, music therapist and specialist teacher run sessions for the children using play to help them distinguish sounds and to start to communicate. An audiologist comes to test their hearing and adjust hearing aids. Specialists also give lectures and discuss problems the parents face. The parents learn how to lobby for better treatment and education.
Thanks to the parent's lobbying, several of the children received cochlear implants from the state. This treatment can replace the sensation of hearing for some. The club provides the essential follow up so that the child gets used to the devise and can interpret the "sounds" it hears through it. The parents are also more likely to find a place for their child in a mainstream kindergarten meaning that mothers can go out to work and avoid poverty. Family relationships also become stronger.