Six-year-old Te Waiwaha Prangnell is a bright and bubbly girl who loves dancing
Cochlear implants provide children and adults who are hard of hearing with access to sound, but receiving an implant isn’t simply about hearing.
Six-year-old Te Waiwaha Prangnell is a bright and bubbly girl who loves dancing, listening to Savage Love by Jason Derulo and reading with her mum. She also has cochlear implants after failing her newborn hearing screen when she was just a few weeks old.
The diagnosis of Te Waiwaha’s profound deafness came as a real shock to her parents Te Ao and Ben, who hadn’t experienced hearing loss before.
“I felt a real sense of loss for our whānau – I guess I was in mourning,” says Te Ao (Ngati Pikiao), who’s head of dance at Western Heights High School in Rotorua.
“But I’m a glass half-full kind of person, and I knew there would be a journey ahead where she would be loved and supported,” she says.
“I also wanted to preserve her deafness as part of her culture, and encourage acceptance and normalisation at every step,” she says.
Te Waiwaha started at Kids.com daycare in Rotorua when she was three months old, and at the same time started learning sign language through the local First Signs programme. She followed her older sisters Arahinga and Rangitapu into the Rūmaki Reo unit at Rotorua Primary School last year and is now trilingual, swapping between her languages with ease.
As a full-time teacher, Te Ao tries to incorporate as many opportunities into Te Waiwaha’s daily life as she can, while at the same time making sure that it fits in with the demands of busy family life. All the girls are keen performers, regularly taking part in dance and drama productions.
“I’m already beginning to see the fruits of our labour,” says Te Ao. “Te Waiwaha is a real little social butterfly. She knows she’s deaf, but also that her ‘ears’ – her cochlear implants -- are part of her body and just as loved as every other part of her.”
Te Ao has also encouraged independence and self-responsibility. It’s Te Waiwaha’s job to put her implants (or sound processors) on every day, and then back on the special charging station set up in her room every night.
The whānau are appreciative of the help she has received from The Hearing House.
The programmes and services offered by SCIP and The Hearing House include assessment, cochlear implant surgery, listening and spoken language therapy, audiology, and outreach programmes for regional and remote patients. Both organisations are also committed to clinical research and professional development.
Surgery and the subsequent switch-on is only one part of the cochlear implant process. Patients need to learn how to use the technology and interpret the new sounds through ongoing audiology and speech and language therapy.
Te Waiwaha received her cochlear implants when she was six months old, and the Prangnell whānau was supported by The Hearing House as Te Waiwaha learned to process the sound she received through her cochlear implants to communicate.
Te Ao describes Te Waiwaha’s switch-on as a “magical moment.”
“I fell in love with her more,” she says.
The Hearing House has remained a key part of the family’s support network since then, and for the past year, Rotorua-based speech and language therapist Renique Williams has assisted with regular therapy sessions and visits to monitor Te Waiwaha’s speech and language development.
“Communication is a huge part of our journey,” says Te Ao. “It’s important that we communicate on a level that works for everyone – sometimes that’s sign, other times it’s reo.”
Te Waiwaha has thrived at school and was awarded a prize for her mahi last year. She’ll start this year as a proud Year 1 student.
Te Waiwaha’s class has launched a sponsorship page for Loud Shirt Day 2023.