After about a five month long journey of being sent all over the place to different doctors, Noah, by then two, was diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss.
Now five-years-old, Noah is one of 10 students in Saskatoon that are part of Children Communicating, Connecting and in Community, an early learning program for preschool-aged children who are deaf and hard of hearing.
The classroom is in St. Therese of Lisieux School and is operated by Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. The program is also operating in Regina through Regina Public Schools at Henry Janzen School.
The program can accommodate up to 16 students in both Saskatoon and Regina, whether theyre deaf, hard of hearing, or even if they have a connection to the deaf community through a family member or close friend.
Children growing up in a community that has no access to sign language or has no understanding of what it means to be deaf – its very easy to leave that child isolated and excluded, said Nairn Gillies, executive director of Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services.
Van Ee said through her son, shes been able to see firsthand how giving access to language can help children grow and develop.
We have seen his confidence improve, she said. His little personality, the more language he gets, it just continues to blossom and grow – and we finally get to see and know the little boy whos ours.
Noah Van Ee participates in the Children Communicating, Connecting and in Community program in Saskatoon.
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Noah Van Ee, five, speaks with education minister Gord Wyant with the help of his mom SonJa during the grand opening of a deaf preschool on Nov. 23, 2018. (Chris Vandenbreekel/650 CKOM)
Deaf and hard-of-hearing children in Saskatoon and Regina can now attend preschools that communicate in the classroom via American Sign Language (ASL).
A grand opening for the early learning pilot program was held at Saskatoon’s St. Therese of Lisieux School, where 10 children are learning from two teachers who are fluent in ASL.
The students are led through exercises that expand their ASL vocabulary in a play-based learning environment, using items like balls, blocks and playmats.
The young boy was diagnosed as “profoundly deaf” at the age of two, and he had difficulty finding a way to communicate with his parents — both of whom were hearing, and had no history of deafness in their family.
“It was shocking,” his mom Sojna told 650 CKOM. “It’s this road of ‘what do we do now? What does this mean for our son?”
Van Ee now has a cochlear implant, which has allowed him to learn and communicate in English when he’s in a quiet room.
But that’s more difficult in a classroom setting, where the noise of other children and school bells isn’t filtered out by the implant the way a natural ear would tune it out.
Being enrolled in the new preschool in September, where he can learn in ASL, has made a big difference.
“As he attains more ASL, his personality just blossoms,” his mom said. “We see him become more confident, and I just look forward to seeing where he will go.”
If Van Ee’s, or any other child’s, hearing device runs out of batteries or fails, they can continue learning without disruption — something that wouldn’t happen if they were integrated into a normal classroom.
“They still need access to education, they still need access to language,” said Nairn Gillies, executive director of Saskatchewan
“If you teach a child (ASL), no matter what happens with technology … they’ll still have access. This connects people across North America.”
Parents aren’t required to pay extra tuition for their kids to attend the program, which is funded by the provincial and federal governments.
Both the Saskatoon and Regina school — located at Henry Janzen School — have capacity for 16 children to attend.
In addition to welcoming children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, the preschool is also bringing in hearing kids who have deaf parents.
Gale Estell, a hard-of-hearing mom who has four children, has enrolled her youngest son Russel in the preschool.
“He’s not so scared as compared to the other kids, who were extremely shy going to a normal preschool,” she said.
“A huge difference between a signing preschool and a normal preschool is there’s no pressure for kids to speak or communicate in just one way,” she said.