Sophie Williams, 25, has begun a training programme in Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT) - a technique she has become passionate about after witnessing first hand the impact she said it had on a profoundly deaf child she was working with.
AVT supports deaf babies and children to learn to listen and speak by stimulating auditory brain development, enabling those fitted with hearing aids or cochlear implants to make sense of the sound relayed by their devices.
It is widely used in America, Australia and Denmark, where it is publicly funded, but here, less than 10 per cent of children are able to receive AVT.
Sophie’s training is being funded by the charity Auditory Verbal UK (AVUK) who are campaigning for Government investment to be able to offer the therapy to more children.
The charity says four out of five children who receive AVT achieve the same spoken language as hearing children - most by the time they start school.
As a way of “giving back” to AVUK, and to boost support for their cause, Sophie is also taking on a more personal challenge by signing up to do April’s London Landmarks Half-Marathon in their honour, with her partner Will Bradwell, 33, to increase awareness as well as vital funds.
Sophie, who lives in Chapel Allerton and is a graduate of Leeds Beckett university, works at the Yorkshire Auditory Implant Service assessing deaf children who are candidates for cochlear implants, and supporting those who receive the implants.
She said: “All therapists want to do the best for the people we work with and I knew at university I wanted to use my degree to support deaf children .
“I want to contribute to social mobility and supporting a child born deaf to start school with age-appropriate speech and language makes a real difference to their social mobility.
“We know that a child’s language abilities when they start school are a strong predictor of their future academic, economic and social outcomes.”
She said: “Seeing the difference [AVT] can make to a deaf child to be able to converse with their hearing friends and family has really made me want to expand the skills I already have.
“Families with deaf children deserve access to all the available options so that they can support their child by choosing the approach that best fits their child and the family.”
Sophie said, with the companies behind hearing devices and cochlear implants always working to improve their technology, it “makes this quite an exciting area to work in”.
But she points out the technology is just “one part” of the process of helping a deaf child communicate.
“That gives the child access to the sensations of sound. But they then need to be supported in learning to make sense of this new information,” she said.
With the newborn baby screening in the UK, hearing loss can be picked up very early for those born deaf.
And, together with AVT, Sophie says, this early intervention is critical in giving children the best chance of being able to start school understanding language, and with the ability to express themselves through talking.
Recalling the child she saw “thrive” after AVT, she said: “It was just amazing. It’s life-changing.
“He was happy, he was part of his community, his school life, his friends. That was all made possible because of his parents really and everything they did for him while he was young.
“I think those early years are so formative.”
Sophie’s training will take several years to complete but she said: “It’s really exciting because you go into this profession because you want to help children and you want to make a difference.
“You know how important communication is and it just feels that, with this, I can really make a difference to someone’s life.”
AVUK has been campaigning for the Government to increase investment in AVT to reach more children.
The charity’s chief executive Anita Grover said their vision is to see a world where all deaf children have the same opportunities in life as hearing children.
She said: “Early support should be available for all deaf children, whether their parents choose to communicate with spoken language, sign language or a combination.
“We want to enable all families who wish their child to develop spoken language to have the opportunity to access an Auditory Verbal programme through therapists working in the NHS and local services.
“With an investment of £21.5m over the next 10 years, we can provide a sound future for deaf children and unlock an economic benefit of £152m, rising to £11.7bn over 50 years.”
Sophie’s training is thanks to the charity’s bursary scheme.
She said: “Without this bursary scheme I doubt would be enrolled on the Foundation course, it’s a simple as that.
“It is for this very reason that my partner and I are running the London Landmarks Half Marathon to fundraise for AVUK.
“It’s a small way I can give back to AVUK for this opportunity to train.
“The more specialists there are, the more accessible a choice AVT will be for families.
“It will mean that families will have a greater choice and ultimately more deaf children will be able to reach their full potential.”
To sponsor Sophie and Will’s half-marathon, visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sophie-will102Follow Sophie’s training progress on Instagram @auditoryverbaltrainee or for more information on AVT visit https://www.avuk.org/Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United. With a digital subscription, you'll see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe