Desperate parents’ pleas for Auslan tutor to help young daughter go unanswered

Tilly Linturn is a delightful, energetic preschooler full of curiosity and a million questions.

But unlike other five-year-olds, she can’t ask them. And if she could, she wouldn’t be able to hear the answers.

Tilly is profoundly deaf and will rely on sign language to communicate for the rest of her life.

Twelve months ago, when Tilly’s NDIS funding was approved, Jane Linturn was hopeful that her daughter would finally get the help she needed to learn Auslan.

But the Illawarra mother-of-four quickly found that accessing an Auslan tutor who would be able to provide the individualized lessons Tilly required would not be simple. Now, she says, she is “getting desperate”.

Tilly Linturn as a baby
Tilly was born with an enlarged facilia aqueduct in her right ear rendering it profoundly deaf. (Supplied by Andrew Linturn)

On this day in 1989 the first Auslan dictionary was published, initiating Auslan Day on April 13, a day to reflect on the physical language used by deaf Australians to communicate.

Decades later we know the benefits of learning sign language but access to tutors, as Ms Linturn has found, is still a barrier for many deaf and hearing-impaired children.

An unexpected diagnosis

When she was born, Tilly, who is now a preschooler, failed the SWISH (Statewide Infant Screening – Hearing) test in her right ear, but Ms Linturn and her husband Andrew were told it was probably caused by fluid in their daughter’s ear.

“We were sent to Sydney’s Children’s Hospital for testing, and it turned out her right ear is profoundly deaf,” Ms Linturn said.

“It’s a sensory neural hearing loss with auditory neuropathy and she has an enlarged facilia aqueduct in that ear diagnosed through MRI.”

Tilly was a “surprise baby”, coming into the Linturn family decades after her siblings, some of whom have children of their own.

Three men and two women, one holding a young girl, all smiling.
Andrew and Jane Linturn with their four children: Byron, Cameron, Claudia and Matilda.(Supplied by Andrew Linturn)

‘On the day she was diagnosed we were expecting them to say,’ The fluid has cleared and she’s all good ‘, but when they came back in the room the lady had a folder which read,’ So your child has a disability ‘, “Ms Linturn said.

“Thankfully my husband is optimistic, and he said whatever the issue, we can face it together. He’s the Yin to my Yang.”

Five year old Tilly at the beach.
Tilly, who was born profoundly deaf in one ear, is too excitable to sit still for long, making online lessons impossible. (Supplied by Andrew Linturn)

Their next stop was Australian Hearing, which gave Tilly a hearing aid and a referral to the Shepherd Center which is a world-leading, child-safe NDIS service provider specializing in helping children with hearing loss.

“The Shepherd Center were fantastic,” Ms Linturn said.

“They were the greatest support, helping us to understand the diagnosis and setting us up with speech therapy and support groups with other parents plus music classes.”

When she turned three, Tilly underwent surgery to have a cochlear implant placed in her right ear but gradually the hearing in her left ear also deteriorated and the family found it increasingly difficult to communicate with her.

“We’ve had some terrible times,” Ms Linturn said.

Deaf tutors signal the way forward

As everyone in the family was keen to learn Auslan, the Linturns reached out to the Deaf Society looking for a tutor.

“They will only tutor for a minimum of two hours [a day] in your home and there was no way I was going to put a three-year-old through two hours of face-to-face tuition, “Ms Linturn said.

In order to care for their daughter, both parents now work part-time, which means finances are tight.

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