Back to school for children with hearing impairments

Waleed Abdurahman with parents Shamiela and Qaasim.
Back to school for children with hearing impairments. Video: Karen Watkins

Returning to school after almost five months absence can be daunting for any child, but when you have a hearing impairment it can be even more scary.

On Monday, Carel du Toit Centre, on the grounds of Tygerberg Hospital, welcomed back another group of children, in pre-Grade R, as part of its phased reopening.

Grade 3s, Grade 1s and Grade Rs have already returned. The centre’s principal, Adri Hodgson, said they had reopened under guidance from the Western Cape Department of Education. During lockdown, staff had provided children with home tutoring wherever possible, she said.

On Monday, children arrived with their parents or in the school minibus. Eyes twinkled on masked faces as some waved to friends as they stood on markers silently waiting to go inside.

Staff Ulfah Salie and Irene Watt recorded temperatures and screened the children for Covid-19 symptoms while offering sanitiser.

The centre accommodates 120 children from age 3, in small classes of four to 10. 

WCED spokeswoman Bronagh Hammond said schools catering for children with certain disabilities could let them use clear face shields instead of cloth masks.

Children attending Carel du Toit are fitted with cochlear implants. In class, teachers check that the hearing devices are working by taking them off and reapplying them. The centre’s Lynn Cloete said many people thought deaf children should learn sign language. But if hearing impairment were detected early enough, they could learn to speak and integrate into a hearing society. 

When the children get to Grade 3 a decision is taken on whether mainstream or special-needs schooling is best for them.

A cochlear implant is about R270 000 and there’s a long waiting list for them. Carel du Toit holds fund-raisers to help those children who need the devices.

“When they are first fitted with a cochlear, it’s a miracle. They can hear a bird song and their mother tells them they love them,” said Ms Cloete.

Visit www.careldutoit.co.za, or email comms@careldutoit.co.za or call 021 933 4578.