Despite the gruelling schedule of Year 12, working at a local pharmacy and keeping up with her favourite sports of hockey and tennis, when 17-year-old Saskia was asked if she’d consider being a mentor for younger children with hearing loss, she had no hesitation in saying yes.
“My recent involvement in Hear and Say’s COMET program, which teaches kids communication and problem-solving skills through fun activities, was the best three days I had on my holiday break,” said Saskia.
“Being able to meet so many children with hearing loss and listen to them share experiences was amazing, and the fact that I could relate so much to them when I was their age told me how important it is for all of us to help each other.”
Born just before the newborn hearing screening program was rolled out in hospitals, Saskia’s parents discovered her hearing loss when she was 18 months old. Saskia was quickly fitted with hearing aids, and due to the severity of her hearing loss went on to have a cochlear implant on her right side at three years old. She then received her second implant when she was 11.
“Hear and Say was like my second home growing up,” Saskia recalled.
“Their team have helped me to become the person I am today, not only in auditory-verbal [specialist speech therapy] lessons and audiology, but through their Group Social Skills programs and their ability to answer any question I or my family have had. Hear and Say feels like a second family, where I always know I can go and ask for help or guidance.”
Saskia said participating in the Group Social Skills programs over the years herself were some of her “most memorable experiences at Hear and Say”.
“From a very young age I always went to Hear and Say’s playgroup, and then later to ROCKET, COMET, STAR and Hear to Live, where I got to meet lots of kids my age with hearing loss – even today I am still really close with some of them.
“Life with a hearing loss is not always smooth sailing, and we all have our bumps along the road. Coming back to the COMET program as a mentor meant I was able to share my past experiences about how I managed issues, or what I could have done better. The kids got to learn ways on how best to approach situations that might also come about in their life, especially at school, and allowed them to feel more comfortable in themselves.
“Volunteering at COMET also confirmed for me that I want to become a paediatric occupational therapist when I graduate from school, and use my own experiences to help kids with disability to live a happier life.”
Saskia said she was proud to give back to a community that had supported her so much.
“Being able to hear, listen and speak has honestly changed my life forever, and most definitely for the better! I have been able to go to the same school as my older sister, actively play a role within my cohort, and do things like listen to music, watch movies with my family and participate in sport.
“An overall message I would give to anyone with a hearing loss is not to let your hearing loss bring you down. Don’t let anyone have lower expectations of you, and surround yourself with the people who care and respect you for who you are.”