At our club for hearing impaired young children, we celebrate the children's progress in all areas of their development. We were thrilled to be able to see little Amelina's first steps, when she was just 11 months old. We love to see the children exploring their environment and growing in confidence.
But it is communication that is at the centre of our work. We are very happy to see our group of hearing parents becoming happier about us using sign language with their children, and picking up some signs too. They understand, partly through mixing with deaf parents, that sign language is an important way to communicate with their child. It needn't be a total replacement for speech. Some children will find it useful alongside speech, and using signs may help them to start using speech.
We also teach the children to understand speech and to learn new words in very simple ways. Every week at the end of our session, we gather round a table for a drink and a snack. We ask some of the older ones to help us lay the table. As we hand them each plate or cup, we name it, ask them to take it and put it on the table. Soon, they understand what is expected of them, and they begin to learn the names for these common items. Parents have told us that their children are keen to help at home. We encourage them also to name things for their children, to allow them to learn new words.
Another way we help our children increase their vocabulary is through singing and musical instruments. This is such a fun way for children to tune into the sounds around them. We make simple little videos and send them out through our WhatsApp group to encourage parents to sing with their children at home too. We've attached one of these videos with a song about arms, legs and other parts of the body. Parents who might not have seen the point of singing with their child, are discovering that they can have fun together, and it is very good for their child's development.
Thank you to everyone who supports us in our work. We very much appreciate your kindness and see its fruits each week at our meetings.
This autumn we are building our new groups after some of our children left to go to kindergarten. We have some new faces, but also some familiar ones.
Grisha is one little boy who has been with us for six or seven months now, coming to our Club with his mamma, Anastasia. The family had moved to St Petersburg from a different region and Grisha was about a year old when he joined us. He has impaired hearing as well as other health problems.
In July, Grisha had a Cochlear Implant fitted. These can replace the sensation of hearing, but it can take time to tune in and interpret the signals the implant sends. The family returned to our Club in September. Grisha can't yet walk, but it is fascinating to see how he moves around and explores. He is very quick at crawling and climbs around the soft play blocks very confidently. When he looks at a toy, he'll crawl all around it, stop and have a look. His face always shows some kind of reaction: he'll frown, raise his eyebrows or smile. Only a short while ago, Grisha would play silently, although he had already had his Cochlear Implant fitted. Just a week ago, Grisha started to pronounce some sounds. We and his mamma were very glad. These sounds are the first step on the way to speech.
Alisa is also doing really well. Her family are deaf, and like many of our deaf families they don't use Alisa's hearing aid at home. They said that she didn't like wearing it. We suggested that they bring the hearing aid to our Club, and we fitted it here. That's wasn't long ago, and soon Alisa started making varous sounds. Now she can say a few words like "Mamma" and "give". Her mamma is really pleased. (Incidentally, we don't undermine our deaf families' use of sign language. We're all about opening up and improving all channels of communication, giving children the skills to communicate effectively with those closest to them, and to integrate into wider society. No doubt this is why we are trusted by all our families, both hearing and deaf.)
Thank you very much to everyone who enables us to continue supporting our families so that they can enjoy moments like these.
One of the developments at our Club for hearing impaired toddlers and their families is tthat in the last year we have invited more families from outside St Petersburg to join us. Some come from as far away as Vladivostok in the far East or from other republics, like Kyrgystan, for treatment in St Petersburg. While they are with us, they are able to find friendship and therapeutic support for their child's development. They are also creating happy memories of what could otherwise be a difficult time in our city.
We also have a family whose past is more traumatic and future more uncertain. Anastasia and Nazar, mother and son, are refugees from eastern Ukraine. They have been living with relatives in St Petersburg and coming to our Club since March. They were lucky enough to meet one of our parents, who invited them to come along.
The Club has helped the family hugely in practical and emotional ways. It was particularly important for Anastasia to find such a group, since she uses sign language exclusively to communicate. The parents she has met at the Club have helped her orient herself in the city and find other ways of engaging with the deaf community. The Club was also able to lend Nazar a hearing aid, since his was lost in the rush to leave their home. In June Nazar was able to start at a specialist kindergarten for deaf children, again with our help. Our audiologist provided a fresh diagnosis and smoothed the path through the bureacracy involved in getting a place for Nazar.
Anna, the relative they have been staying with, tells us that Nazar is enjoying kindergarten very much and will be going on summer camp this year. Anastasia has also found a job. They are very grateful for the help they have received from the club.
With summer, we also said goodbye to some of our older children who will be going to mainstream kindergartens. We are very proud of them. They are able to play on their own and with other children. They can also ask grown-ups for help when they need to. It will be much easier for them to integrate into their new kindergarten with these skills. We look forward to welcoming new families in September. In the meantime, we wish you a very happy summer.
Our Club is split into two groups: one for parents who are hearing, and one for parents who are deaf. Antonina and her family have been a part of our second group for some years. They have three children, Ronya, Trina and Artur. All three have impaired hearing, as do their parents, and all three have come to our club since they were babies. Antonina and her partner use Russian sign language and speech to communicate. They make sure their children use their hearing aids consistently, which has helped them a great deal. Ronya, the eldest, has just started mainstream school and speaks very well. Trina started kindergarten in September, but also comes to the Club with her brother. She has started saying a lot of words and even full sentences. Arthur is just 15 months old. He usually comes to the Club with his Papa. He is a very positive little boy. He makes a lot of sounds, and can say several words already. He also knows how to communicate what he wants and how he is feeling with gestures, signs and smiles. As well as the main Club activities we were able to arrange a meeting with a paediatrician for Artur's parents to advise on how they could help the development of Artur's motor skills, which they were concerned about.
Artur's papa is very attentive and kind. He understands children very well and plays with his own children and the others in the group. His mum comes when her work allows. She is a sportswoman and travels to compete. They are a very friendly family and an excellent example for other parents in our group. Antonina may not be able to come frequently to the Club, but she can see how important they are and greatly appreciates them.
"We have brought all three children to the Club since they were babies, about 8 months old. We really like the atmosphere here. The teachers are very attentive and observant. If a child is tired, no-one gets cross or forces them to do anything. They simply continue the activity with the other children. The child gets bored playing on their own and soon returns to the activity. My children love the music, the games and the tea and snacks. The Club gives the children a great deal, an interest in music and the sounds around them, development of their fine motor skills, getting to know and play with other children, drawing, plasticine, role-play, and learning manners. There are so many helpful activities! Thank you to all the teachers!"
Fortunately, just before the sanctions hit Russia, a large tranche of your donations was transferred to us, and so we keep working. At present we are exploring all legal avenues to ensure donations reach our projects and we will keep you posted on our progress.
Our Club got back together in September and we have been welcoming back old friends and getting to know new families. Angela and Adriana are new to our Club, and it was a great joy to celebrate Adriana's first birthday with her last week. The children and parents made a birthday card together for her and, of course, we had a cake.
Adriana is a very positive girl. She explores her surroundings with interest, examines the toys carefully and plays with them. She approaches other children, watches them play and imitates them.
We are very impressed by her mother, Angela, who is also hearing impaired. They have very good communication between them. Angela has taught Adriana various signs (Mum, Dad, eat, drink, wash hands, ask, refuse). She has really encouraged Adriana to communicate in the ways open to her at the moment, and this spills over into her communication with other adults and children. She is full of smiles and gestures.
In Russia, sign language has very little official support and is not taught in schools for the deaf. What official training is available is often very out-dated and not in touch with how the deaf community actually communicate. We have groups for hearing and deaf parents and we encourage all kinds of communication. We see how using signs can bring children and parents closer together and smooth the path in every day life.
Svetlana studies sign language in a different group at our Early Intervention Institute. Her son is 15 now. She tells her story of trying to get him the education and help he needed. Only diagnosed aged 5, she was then told that if he learned to sign, he wouldn't learn to talk. It wasn't until a teacher joined the school and set up a group to teach parents how to sign that they had their breakthrough. Svetlana says, "When I was able to tell my son the first fairy tale in our life in sign language, he hugged and kissed me, and I cried."
She goes on, "There is another aspect of the problem. When a deaf or deaf child is born in a family where parents themselves have hearing disorders, it is perceived as normal. Deaf people do not consider themselves disabled. It's just people talking a different language. Deaf children in such families begin to speak even before hearing. From here on - timely and normal development delays. Such little ones, who come to the first grade, remember everything quickly and quickly and learn easier. Having a deaf child in a hearing family is a huge stress. The natural first human reaction is denial, looking for possible solutions. Psychologists should connect here and work with parents, because the whole future fate of the child depends on the behavior of the parents. But parents are left alone with their grief, which, I know for myself and many acquaintances, breaks a person, sometimes irreparably."
Sometimes we need to hear other people's bad experiences, to remember how special the Club we have created is. Working with our colleagues to encourage early diagnosis and early support for children and parents pays dividends throughout their childhood and beyond. Signing, Cochlear Implants, speech. These are all means to an end: communication. Where parents are struggling we can give them the tools to communicate with their children and help them develop. Above all, no parent is left alone. If their child's diagnosis leaves them grief-stricken, we are able to pick them up and show them the wonderful potential their child has.
Thank you for being with us through 2021. We very much appreciate all the donations, which mean we can support Angela and Adriana and other families living with impaired hearing. We wish you all a very happy New Year.
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