Family wants sign language on primary curriculum

The family of a young boy who underwent pioneering surgery to improve his hearing have called on the Government to put sign language on the primary school curriculum.

Unfortunately, the surgery carried out in Britain on Calum Geary, 4, from Ballyhooly, Co Cork, was not as successful as hoped, his mother has revealed.

Helen Geary said as a result, the family are now concentrating their efforts on learning sign language and lip reading with him.

Electronic implants were inserted into Calum’s brain and attached to a box in his ear designed to pick up sounds.

However, they have not worked as anticipated and one possible reason is that Calum may have been too old for the operation which was carried out at Manchester University Hospital in May 2012.

“There was no newborn screening for hearing when Calum was born,” said Helen.

“He was two years and two months old when we discovered he was deaf and he was three and a half when he had the operation. The recommended age is two.

“It’s disappointing it hasn’t worked for him as he was the first Irish boy to undergo the operation. But because he never had hearing he doesn’t realise it really.”

“As parents we had to do it (get the operation) for him. Now we can at least sleep at night knowing we tried.”

Helen said her husband Andrew and her other sons, Barry, 10, Matthew, 7, and Calum’s twin, Donnacha, are all brushing up on their sign language: “We can have a family conversation with Calum at the dinner table using sign language. My mother, Eilish Walsh, who is a retired teacher, is starting her third sign language course. She believes it should be included in the primary school curriculum, as the rest of us do.

“We want to create more awareness about deafness. There are 40,000 people in the country who use sign language and we think it would be very beneficial if all children were taught it.”

Calum is attending a deaf school in Douglas, Cork, and is becoming more fluent by the day in the language.

“He’s a very determined child,” said Helen. “He joins in all the games and watches TV when we put on the subtitles for him. He’s a great sense of humour and a great zest for life which we are very grateful for. He doesn’t see himself as any different from other children. When we are signing to him we also speak the words and he’s also learning how to lip read.”

Finally she said she would like to thank all the people who helped raise the €60,000 for the operation: “We are eternally grateful to those people. We have no regrets. He became more confident during the run up to and aftermath of the operation. We always wanted Calum to be more independent, confident, and happy and he is.”

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