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Assumed Deaf and Nonverbal


In 2009, in his native Kenya, a toddler was diagnosed with profound hearing loss – a condition that makes it almost impossible to understand speech, even when using a hearing aid. The little boy wouldn’t tolerate wearing his hearing aids, and as a result, those around him assumed he was unable to hear. For the next four years, the boy continued to be grossly under-stimulated and remained nonverbal. Fortunately, his aunt, a nurse in the United States, helped make it possible for her nephew to come to the US for treatment. The boy’s mother and aunt understood they would never get all the necessary services for a child with his special needs in Kenya.

Proper Care at Tufts MC

The boy arrived in the US earlier this year and was brought to Tufts Medical Center to see Pediatric Audiologist Audrey Winans, AuD, CCC-A. Winans discovered that doctors had been wrong about him. Her tests revealed that he had Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder (ANSD). Rather than deafness, due to damage in the ear, ANSD causes difficulty for the brain to tell different sounds from each other. Winans fit him with hearing aids that were appropriate for his hearing loss with the hopes that he would hear speech more clearly, on a more regular basis. While some children with ANSD benefit from this traditional treatment, others do not. Incredibly, at the age of seven, the boy said his first word within a week of receiving his new hearing aids, thanks, in part, to intensive speech therapy at school.

On the Right Track

“He doesn’t talk much,” said Winans. “But he does have a few words now.” His first word was “help,” likely because he had been hearing a lot of “we’re here to help you” since setting foot in the US. Winans said the boy has done well and is a calmer and more interactive child than when she first saw him. The progress he has made since receiving his new hearing aids has amazed everyone. “It’s a long road ahead,” said Winans. “But he is finally on the right track.”

The boy’s mother told Winans that she “feels hope again.” For the first time, her son can hear her enter the house when she comes home from work – something most people would take for granted. He now runs to greet her at the door.