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Ernie goes to university

Ernie in his LENA gear

Ernie in his LENA gear

Wednesday evening and I’m boarding a bus carrying a child sized Ernie doll. I get surprisingly few weird looks. I did try to stuff him in my bag but he didn’t fit. I’m not sure what’s a worse look… openly carrying around an orange limpy doll or a head emerging from a bag looking like he’s close to suffocation.

I’m doing part of a university lecture tomorrow. I approached my colleague who who will be doing most of the lecture, carrying Ernie under my arm.

‘Is it ok, if I bring him?’ She of course said yes but gave me that strange look.

It’s all a bit crazy really. I’m going to lecture a bunch of Speech Pathology Masters Students with a woman who has over 35 years of experience and a PhD and I have no qualification relevant to my working life and a stuffed toy.

For the doll I must give credit to a former colleague. She gifted him to me when she left. ‘Use him for training’ she said. It’s all her fault.

Of course staring at the back of his head on the way home I realised that Ernie has an issue. He doesn’t have a hearing aid or a Cochlear Implant. Unlike some of the other ‘props’ at work, Ernie is unaided. The bus turns the corner into Marrickville and I’m silently cursing my former colleague for Ernie’s poor device compliance. Maybe I can craft one up? Someone at work made a Baha (a type of hearing aid if you like), using an egg carton and some velcro. Then again… maybe not.

Tomorrow I’m going to talk about what I know about LENA devices (the thing in Ernie’s lap). This device I once heard described as a language pedometer. They can be used with children to capture a ‘language sample’ over the period of a day or so and then, once plugged in to some whizz bang software, have that language sample analysed to give indications of how much meaningful speech the child may have heard (speech that was loud enough and without significant background noise); how much distant speech, how much noise and how much electronic sound (such as TV). It tells you how many adult words were said and how many times there were conversations between Ernie and his carer. The technology still does my head in. It’s a tool which has the capacity to show parents of children who have a hearing loss that their child how many words each day their child is hearing and saying and how they – the parents – have the capacity to grow their child’s listening, language and speech by increasing how much they speak to their child during everyday activities and how much of that is in close proximity so the child can access the sound.

It got me thinking about my childhood. The device counts ‘adult words’. I’m not sure how it does it – some mathmatical algorithm I expect. I wonder what it would have made of some of the books my mum and dad liked to read me. Books with words such as ‘scroobious pip’, ‘moppisikin floppsikin bears’, ‘pobbles’ and ‘jabberwockies’. No wonder as a grown up I do slightly offbeat presentations inclusive of ridiculous props. Let’s hope the uni students have a sense of humour. Wish me luck.


The Concrete Palm Tree

Los Angeles. My first glimpse. A concrete jungle with palm trees. To be fair I’ve only really seen from the airport to my hotel in downtown LA; and then about 6 blocks of the city on a walk in search of toothpaste. (Apparently my toothpaste was too large and they took it from me upon leaving Sydney).

I am not, and will never be, a traveller. I like my familiar surrounds too much… and there’s no cats on the road – two weeks without Saff and Lic is a long time! That said, Andrew you will be delighted, I have seen 2 dogs to date – both great danes. I’m not sure whether they breed them larger here in the states; or whether it was because they walked along side me, but I swear they are bigger than some of those miniature ponies.

It’s odd the things you notice when you travel. There’s the obvious – accents, yellow cabs which are orange, a different feel of the city. Then there’s the tiny things I didn’t consider. Take pedestrian crossings at traffic lights. I got to the first intersection on the toothpaste hunt, and there was no button! More than that, where the pedestrian light is in Australia was a black box, facing the opposite direction. As I wasn’t confident timing the traffic (given the cars are on the opposite side of the right), I hovered for a while waiting for someone else to come by. They were waiting even though there was no button – and then I spotted the ‘walk’ symbol – in an odd spot; not green; and making ZERO noises. I quickly got used to where to look for the walk symbol but I hadn’t realised how use to the auditory signals I am at traffic lights.

Throughout my walk, I wore my ‘poker faced sunglasses’ that Andrew had specially selected. He claims that with these on, if I look lost and unsure, no one will be any the wiser as they take over the majority of my face.

Each time I spoke, I did so slowly and was waiting for the moment when someone said ‘pardon??’ It seems my accent is not an issue which is a relief.

I found a domino’s pizza place – well, more like a hole in the wall – to grab some lunch. The girl was enclosed behind a screen not unlike those in banks. There was a metal gate through which you could pass money and she went away to get change and then came back each time with it. I’m not really used to this – in Redfern Sydney, the domino’s still has an open counter (although they won’t actually deliver to some of the department of housing areas of Redfern for ‘safety reasons’.)

Screen or not, a pepperoni pizza is pretty much the same the world over. With one minor difference. The Andrew ‘pizza folding guaranteed not to drip tomato sauce down yourself method’ didn’t work. The ‘thin and crusty’ was so, thin and crusty that it didn’t bend properly. I miss my knife and fork. I know, I’m a weirdo. No one eats pizza with a knife and fork.

I have to go back to the finishing touches on my presentation. I have to caption one last youtube video. It’s of a little girl of about 18 months who has a hearing loss and two adults singing twinkle twinkle, and ‘hurry hurry drive the fire truck’ – thank goodness it’s got repetitive lyrics as that will make the captioning faster.

It’s quite cute, I’ve embedded it below, or you can watch directly on youtube.

Happy birthday Bruce

This week Bruce turned 80.

I’ve never met Bruce yet I believe I have a strong sense of him. Bruce is a man who I see as – in the Australian vernacular – as a bloody determined man. Bruce and his wife Annette in the late 60s started their family. To their shock, both children were born deaf. Surveying what services were available in Australia to help children with a hearing loss communicate, Bruce wasn’t happy!

He wanted children who were deaf or hearing impaired to learn to speak, enter mainstream schools and take up mainstream jobs. As he believed there were no suitable programs in Australia for this, he started his own based on the John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles.

Over 40 years later, I have the pleasure of working for The Shepherd Centre, the Organisation he and his late wife Annette founded. While they may have started using the John Tracy Clinic as a base, I suspect The Shepherd Centre has grown organically into a place founded on those principles but with a distinctly Australian bent.

Dr Bruce Shepherd

My road to the Shepherd Centre has been a little odd. Unlike many colleagues who knew they wanted to work with children who have a hearing loss, my only career specification was to remain with the not for profit sector. When I first started there and people talked about the cochlea, auditory nerves and sensory neural losses, I used to say I’ve been working for 10 years with eyes, not ears!

Despite my initial bamboozlement – should that be a word – it wasn’t long before I found my feet and I must say a fascination and deep respect  for what many of my colleagues do. Last week I got to join a group of masters students (soon to be speech pathologists) in observing an Auditory Verbal Therapy sessions with a 2 1/2 year old girl and her mum. While I know that both mum and Shepherd Centre staff member were working very hard trying to teach the little girl, at times, it was hysterical and just looked like loads of fun – not to mention mess! (My brave colleague thinks nothing of giving 2 1/2 year old children a tub of yoghurt or a bottle of food colouring). At one point I laughed so hard, I had tears running down my face.

My encounters with the children are brief – usually in the lobby, outside, or in the kitchen. (Although, the other day I was having a discussion with my boss when a little boy walked in unexpectedly asking for his pirate hat to be repaired!)

It was in the kitchen one day that I had a funny little encounters. I walked in to make myself a cup of tea to discover that a ‘therapy session’ was taking place in the kitchen. There was mum, two kids – a boy and a girl – and one of my colleagues. ‘We’re baking!’ the little girl excitedly announced as I walked into the room. Baking mini cupcakes actually. At this point I wasn’t sure if it was the boy or girl who had a hearing loss. About half an hour later, a host of other kids had arrived for a weekly group session. We were a bit short on staff, so I went outside to help ‘supervise’. (Yes, I know – me with children. I still feel more at ease with the furry variety!) There was the little girl and my colleague Jen icing the cupcakes. Spotting the aids this time, I knew it was the girl who had a hearing loss. (Many of the kids speak so well, that it’s hard to tell!)

‘Can I have a cupcake?’

She was engrossed in icing them, so Jen prompted her:

‘Are you going to make one for Lysh?’


And with that I was given a mini iced cupcake. I looked at the little girl’s hands. She had icing all over them.

Jen said to her ‘what do we do when our hands get dirty?’

Her response:  ‘LICK THEM!’

Canberra Shepherd Centre’s 10th anniversary

Over the years The Shepherd Centre has helped more than 1,000 children develop spoken language. (Yes, you can see who the database person is! Unlike the pictures, I didn’t steal the number from their website.)

I have no doubt that Bruce ticked more than a few people off over the years in his dogged determination to establish a program which taught only speech, not sign. As for the people he annoyed, I daresay he wouldn’t care! Bruce and his late wife Annette, added another choice of service for parents and that can only be a good thing.

This week on facebook there have been a collection of stories about some of the children the Shepherd Centre has helped in celebration of Bruce’s birthday.  There have also been a number of comments from Bruce’s family as well as past and current parents. I thought I’d finish this blog post with just one of them from a mum. (See The Shepherd Centre’s facebook page for more).

Happy Birthday Bruce 🙂 The Shepherd Centre is amazing.  We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didnt have it….everytime i get a comment like “wow you would never know she is deaf” and my daughters latest public speaking award, we owe it all to you and the staff. Without you none of this would be possible.

Disclaimer: The above blog post contains my personal views and opinions and should not be attributed in any way to my employer. (It’s sad that we have to write such disclaimers in social media… but that’s a whole other blog post!)

The danger of Eats Shoots and Leaves


Eats Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss

Eats Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
has me chuckling and quaking in my sandals at the same time. Lynne Truss’ bestselling book is downright debilitating.

Do I dare write a sentence without checking whether ‘Lynne Truss’ book’ should be Truss’ or Truss’s? According to Ms Truss, who in turn is quoting Fowler’s Modern English Usage, modern convention is to attach the s following the apostrophe – with a few exceptions, of course!

The realization that I am an outcast due to my ignorance of correct punctuation has been swift and depressing. Yet it is not just my poor knowledge of grammar that is making me blush. Ms Truss recounts a story of when she was in the 8th grade and scoffed at an American penpal for not knowing the word desultory. I’m 33 and I still had to look it up. Clearly, my vocabulary is as stunted as my punctuation. (For those of you who are interested, desultory means ‘going from one subject to another, especially in a half-hearted way’ or ‘disconnected; unmethodical; superficial’).

It is not only reading Eat Shoots & Leaves that is causing me concern re: my literary capabilities. Presently, I am surrounded each day by Auditory-Verbal therapists. These strange creatures have a disconcerting grasp of English grammar; well, disconcerting to those of us whose grammatical foundations are wobbly, to say the least. I sat yesterday, huffing every so often, while two auditory-verbal therapists (AVTs) had a conversation about the emergence of irregular past tense in children and irregular plurals. Due to my three month crash course in all things AVT, I at least know that fell and rode are irregular plurals. However, (and I’m not sure I can start a sentence with however – but I shall!), when these crazy women start discussing the uncontractible copula I think it is time for me to leave. Andrew is right. The uncontractible copula sounds dodgy. He said it sounds like a penis that cannot be put away. I think he has a point.

Lastly, Eat Shoots & Leaves, has left me questioning whether I am ‘but obsessed’. Please note it is not a typo. I did mean ‘but’. Ever since I’ve been reading Lynne’s book, when I write a blog post I find myself searching for a word other than ‘but’. I seem to want to employ this conjunction in every second sentence. I am obviously, conjunctively challenged! What’s more, dashes and ellipses are both marks of choice, perhaps because the dash will get you out of grammatical gaol as it can never be wrong – ooh, magical dash.

My moaning re: my grammatical shortcomings aside, see the above as homage to Lynne Truss’s book (yes, with the added ‘s). Just as a colleague this week complimented me on my ability to make ‘databases – boring horrible things that they are – funny’, I applaud Lynne on her hilarious commentary on the state of modern grammar. If my school teachers had even a smidge of Lynne’s wit, and grammar was in the curriculum of the day – which is wasn’t – I may not look as perplexed when my colleagues start banging on about the acquisition of pronouns and verb tense in hearing impaired children. It’s a miracle that hearing children acquire irregular plurals and the uncontractible copula let alone those who are deaf.

My only criticism of Eat Shoots & Leaves is that the quote to demonstrate the use of the exclamation for added drama is: “That’s not the Northern Lights, that’s Manderley!” Surely, Alec Guinness’s memorable delivery of the line “That’s no moon, that’s a space station!” warranted the exclamation mark drama quote category… but then each to his own.

Jack and the arabesque

Here’s a video which aired on this week about Jack, a little boy who loves guinea pigs, lady gaga, ballet and talking. When people think about children who are deaf, I doubt dancing and talking as passions are high on their lists of possibilities. Jack shows that it is very possible. By way of a disclaimer – I do work for The Shepherd Centre, however this is my personal blog and any views expressed here are my own. Please check out this gorgeous video and if you enjoy it share it among your friends.