Unlocking the key to understanding

Posted on 11 April 2018 by Rachel Dale

Young woman looking into the distance

Alice* has been profoundly deaf since birth. She communicates using Auslan (sign language), but very few people are familiar with this language, and Alice is unable to lip read. When she came to live in a MacKillop home in November last year, Alice was unable to communicate with our staff, or the other young people she was living with.

Her history of trauma and self-harm were compounded by her communication difficulties and she quickly became agitated and withdrawn.

No one in the house spoke Auslan, but MacKillop staff were determined to help Alice feel safe and supported and to find a way to communicate with her.

Alice’s care manager, Abby, was aware of a MacKillop home in another region where all four young people are hearing impaired. The home environment is built around their unique needs, which includes providing all staff with training in Auslan and Deaf culture. Alice’s care team reached out to the House Supervisor, Clinton, for advice on how they could support her.

When Clinton came to meet Alice, they conversed for hours in Auslan. It was Alice’s first chance to have a conversation in her preferred language with someone in the house. Clinton recommended a series of strategies to help Alice’s care team communicate with her.

Clinton’s visit was a major catalyst for Alice. She was able to be understood and instantly became more engaged with her fellow residents. The very next day, Alice was able to communicate with her care team, who have now started training in Auslan.

Small changes such as installing a special smoke alarm and using a torch to get Alice’s attention when she is in her room have made a big difference.

Alice now has an avenue to share her thoughts and tell stories. Importantly, it’s given her a way to talk about her past, a critical component to healing from trauma.

In the space of just a few weeks, Alice has developed a stronger purpose and expressed a desire to re-engage with her education; something she hadn’t actively shown an interest in for several months.

Alice’s Care Manager Abby notes that “it’s the first time Alice has been settled and she’s actually looking into the future.”

The house dynamic has also changed considerably. The other young people have since learned basic Auslan so they can communicate with Alice.

Abby says the shift in the household has been incredible. “It demonstrates the empathy kids can have for one another.”

An X-Box was purchased for the house at Christmas so Alice can watch television with subtitles. Even when she is not watching, the other young people always have subtitles enabled to provide an inclusive environment for Alice.

House Supervisor, Sian has also seen how the other young people have changed. “The other kids have reflected on how much harder it is for Alice than for them. It’s given them such valuable perspective.”

*Name changed and model imaged used to protect identity.