When Estelle Gerrett tells the parent of a deaf child “there is a way for your child to listen and speak” and “you can do this”, she is speaking from experience.
Estelle is a certified auditory-verbal therapist and has worked at The Hearing House for 14 years.
She has taught hundreds of parents to teach their children to listen and speak.
This month she leaves the children’s charity and heads for London, where she will work at Auditory Verbal UK on a three year contract.
Estelle’s journey into a career in hearing impairment and speech development began in the UK under very personal circumstances.
Her middle child, Nathan, contracted meningitis when he was one-year-old and lost his hearing as a result.
“I was told there was no chance of him speaking. But I thought ‘there has to be a way’.”
So Estelle, who already had a career as a primary school teacher, went to University and gained a Masters in Hearing Impairment and Speech Development so she could teach her son to talk again.
“I needed to upskill myself to be the best I could be for my son. I taught him to speak using lip reading and feeling his throat.”
Nathan’s progress was slow until he became more confident to speak to others at the age of 6.
Estelle says following her teaching and the amazing support they received from therapists and his primary school, Nathan soon flourished.
He had a hearing aid in one ear, but in 2007, while living in New Zealand, he decided to get a cochlear implant – despite many specialists saying it wouldn’t work.
Estelle then worked tirelessly with Nathan, who was 20, teaching him to listen.
“It was hugely successful. He can use the telephone now. He is doing all sorts of things he couldn’t do before.”
Nathan is now studying audiology in the UK and eventually hopes to be an audiologist specialising in cochlear implants.
Estelle says it is this experience with Nathan that inspired her career.
When her three children were still young, and as a solo mum, she returned to the workforce opening up a special hearing impairment and speech development unit at Nathan’s school.
She later went on to do similar work with secondary school age children.
Needing a change, Estelle moved to New Zealand in 2002, when her children were aged 16, 15 and 9 and initially worked at the Kelston Deaf Education Centre.
After meeting highly respected ENT surgeon Ron Goodey (now retired), Estelle was introduced to The Hearing House. She joined the team as a therapist and later took on the role of clinical manager for just over nine years.
Estelle says “everything has changed” since her early days with the charity.
“We had less than 40 children, and there was a mix of hearing aid children and cochlear implant children. We were small, and we did long hours and our own admin. Everyone did everything.”
Estelle says after her own experiences with Nathan, and all that she learnt at The Hearing House, working in the field of paediatric hearing loss has always been about the parent.
“My biggest thing is getting the parents to believe they can do it. All they need is someone who believes in them. I love working with the kids, but it’s always been about the parents for me.”
Estelle says her other jobs were always about changing the child.
“But The Hearing House has always been about the family – how can we help the family to change the child?”
Estelle says she will be taking plenty of special memories with her when she heads to the UK next month.
Among them will be supporting families of children with multiple challenges and seeing “amazing outcomes” for many families.
“It has been hugely rewarding. One of the journeys that will always stick in my mind is my journey with Esther.”
Esther Pakura is a mum to four children, three of whom are deaf. She joined The Hearing House as a parent with Estelle providing therapy to two of the children.
Like Estelle, Esther’s personal involvement in hearing loss developed into a career – she is now one of the auditory-verbal therapists at The Hearing House.
Estelle’s decision to move to the UK didn’t come lightly, but after more than one request from Auditory Verbal UK to join their team, she finally accepted.
Her role will see her with a small case load, running parent workshops, two residential programmes for families and training new staff.
“I’m really excited about it. But I’m quite nervous too. I’ve learnt a lot at The Hearing House that I can take with me.”
Habilitation team leader Alexandra Crosbie says Estelle has offered support and guidance to many families on The Hearing House programme over the past 14 years.
“Estelle brought a great deal of commitment, skill, ideas and energy to the team,” Alexandra says.
“She was especially passionate about running the residential programme, where families could connect with each other and intensively with the programme over a weekend.
“We wish her every success in her future endeavours.”