Harry's ready to hear all about school

Five-year-old Harry Cecceto  is about to start mainstream school.
Five-year-old Harry Cecceto is about to start mainstream school. Photo: Supplied

When Harry Cecceto's parents were told their little boy was profoundly deaf, they were concerned their son might never attend a mainstream school.

However as they prepared to send Harry off to kindergarten at Waverley Primary School in Sydney this week their only concern was how to get him to wear the uniform.

"He asked why we were getting a uniform and I explained how he had to wear it to school every day," Harry's mum Ky McGrillen says. "He said he didn't think that was a such a good idea, he would prefer to wear his Batman costume some days."

A self-portrait Harry did at The Shepherd Centre.
A self-portrait Harry did at The Shepherd Centre. Photo: Supplied

The first day of school is a big step for the five-year-old who has been attending weekly playgroup and therapy sessions once at week at The Shepherd Centre in Sydney for the last three years.

He is one of 29 hearing-impaired children in NSW who will start kindergarten at a mainstream school this week thanks to the help of the centre.

The success of the organisation's early intervention program means 90 per cent of its "graduates" start kindergarten at a mainstream primary school.

"Many of these children were diagnosed with hearing loss shortly after they were born, and have received regular speech and language therapy, along with hearing devices such as cochlear implants or hearing aids, since they were just a few months old. This is a huge milestone for these families, who have been preparing for their first day of school for almost their entire lives." Shepherd Centre Chief Executive Officer Jim Hungerford said.

"Now that the big day has finally arrived, we are thrilled to be able to watch our graduates impress their new school teachers and classmates with their fantastic listening and language skills – skills that many people don't realise are possible for people with hearing loss."

As a newborn Harry was found to have mild to moderate hearing loss and he started attending The Shepherd Centre at the age of just five months.

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However his hearing deteriorated and further testing when he was two-years-old led to him being diagnosed as profoundly deaf. In the months following his diagnosis, Harry was fitted with two Cochlear implants. 

The sessions at The Shepherd Centre after he received his implants saw Harry's language skills go ahead in leaps and bounds, helping him reach developmental milestones at the same age as his peers.

"At two-and-a-half he was found to be profoundly delayed in every area, but now he is on average in almost all the areas they test," Ms McGrillen says. 

"The therapy is great not only for the child, but also for the parents. A lot of the things they teach you are basic changes to the way you play with the child at home, but it all makes such a difference."

The Shepherd Centre has been providing services to deaf and hearing impaired children in NSW and the ACT since 1970.

The organisation is very proud of its track record when it comes to preparing children for life in a mainstream school.

"Internationally, these are remarkable results, and it really showcases the incredible value of early intervention when it comes to giving deaf children the very best start in life," Hungerford said.

Ms McGrillen is confident her son's transition into "big school" will go smoothly.

"He's a smart little kid. He's funny and self-righteous," Ms McGrillen says. "We are very proud."

Like most five-year-olds Harry is looking forward to making new friends at school and is excited about sports day.

"He is a little put out that there is another boy at school named Harry, but I've told him that's just the way it is," Ms McGrillen laughs.

* It costs almost $20,000 per year, per child, to provide this essential program to teach deaf children to listen and speak. The Shepherd Centre's Back to School Appeal aims to raise community funds to help support early intervention Auditory-Verbal Therapy programs for children who are deaf and hearing impaired. 

To donate to the appeal visit www.shepherdcentre.org.au or call 1800 020 030.