Rosie Gardner has been a Teacher of the Deaf for 30 years, and is based in Northern Ireland. Rosie in now a certified Auditory Verbal Therapist after completing our training package and passing her exam. Here she shares her story:

A brief overview of my career which spans across 30 years

My first encounter with teaching deaf children was when I was quite a young child, reading a simple children’s story of a teacher teaching a deaf child to speak (using a balloon!). I remember finding it fascinating at the time and reading it over and over again. Little did I know even at that young age that this little spark would ignite a fire that would become a lifetime passion.  

On leaving school, I applied to become a Speech Therapist but I was unsure if this career was the right one for me.  Before I accepted the offer, someone told me about a 4-year degree course at Manchester University, where I could study for a degree in Education and Audiology with one main subject.  To research this career, I visited a school for the deaf.  That short visit immediately clicked with me and I knew that this was the path I was to follow.  I applied to Manchester University and the rest is history.

After obtaining my degree, my first job was in Nutfield Priory School for the deaf in Redhill in the south of England. It is now a very stylish hotel - we went to stay a night in it a few years ago – a strange experience sleeping in one of the “classrooms”!! My time there as a young ToD was a wonderful foundation for me to start my career, surrounded as I was by extremely dedicated and experienced teachers of the deaf.  The school closed in 1987. 

After my time in Nutfield Priory, I got married to an Irishman and I moved to Northern Ireland. My first job in Northern Ireland was in a Partially Hearing Unit attached to a secondary school. This proved to be a baptism of fire after being in Nutfield Priory as I wasn’t near any other teacher of the deaf. I worked there for 3 happy years before I left to have my first child, Hannah and my 3 other children quickly followed. I decided not to return to work and for a few years, I was a ‘stay at home’ mum with my 4 children under 6. It had its joys and challenges but it is something I have never regretted over the years – I often think it gave me a huge understanding of mums who are at home full time.  When I returned to work again, this time it was in the peripatetic service for children with hearing loss where I worked for almost 20 years and I had to  learn to balance (juggle?!) work and children. For the final 11 years, I was Head of Service and so I managed a team of teachers of the deaf as well as teachers of children who had vision loss.

In August 2014, while on holiday in Venice, completely out of the blue, I was struck with a brain haemorrhage and I ended up in hospital out there for several weeks, after undergoing emergency surgery. I returned home in a wheelchair, grateful to be alive.  The traumatic experience made me weigh up what I was doing and as I began to look at life differently, I knew I needed to make changes to what I was doing and so in August 2016, I took early retirement from teaching and took the scary step to work on a private basis.   

Why I wanted to train in the Auditory Verbal approach

I had attended an excellent one day course some years ago run by an AV Therapist in the Ear Foundation which had made a big impression on me.   At that time, I asked about AVT and when I heard it took 3 years to train, I immediately thought that I was far too old to start training!

Then, some families I worked with asked me about AVT; some flew to London to attend AVT and were quick to say how amazing it was. I asked myself some hard questions – what were they getting that I wasn’t already providing for them? Why did they need AVT?  When I heard that I could do AVT foundation course in Dublin, I decided to apply so that I could at least find out what the fuss was all about.  Those 6 months were so inspirational to me and I loved the whole concept of AVT. I knew this was what I now needed to do.  

Over the 30 years or so that I have taught deaf children, the advances in hearing technology, the earlier diagnosis through the newborn hearing screening and the extensive research on the brain means that AVT makes complete sense to me. The advanced course has been hugely challenging but I have loved it. I can see the massive difference it has made on my practice and therefore the quality of what I can give to parents.

The biggest impact on my practice

The biggest impact is hard to define – it has massively affected and completely changed my thinking about what I do and how I do it as I try to improve my professional performance.  The ideal is that I actively listen to and coach parents so that we, collaboratively, journey together to work towards the outcomes we all aim for: a happy and fulfilled child who listens and talks.  

I love the way AVT aims to create active listening and this then facilitates spoken language and cognition.  So I aim to encourage listening, thinking and language skills to develop using various very simple techniques and as I aim for this, I coach and guide parents to be able to continue it in their everyday life.  It makes so much sense to me and my joy comes from seeing the children and parents alike blossom.  I only wish I had had the courage to have done it 10 years ago when I was so much younger!

My aim is to make AVT accessible to people here in Ireland, both north and south of the border, and what I really hope is that other professionals, younger than me, will consider training in AVT and work alongside me and then take up the baton from me.

Why I would recommend the training practice

Without hesitation, I would strongly recommend the training practice to any and every professional working with deaf children.  It will transform how you think and therefore how you practice.

The mentoring and help given to me by other AV Therapists in AVUK has been inspirational and as they have guided and coached me, I see the massive changes I needed to make in my own thinking about how a child learns so that I could guide and coach parents more effectively. It is a fabulous training, carefully balanced between theory and practice.

What were the highlights of the course?

The highlights - well, obviously passing the exam! Also my application being accepted by AG Bell last December.

But actually, the highlights have also been the webinars, sharing clips of my therapy sessions when we can celebrate a child's achievement.  I remember being so excited to share how I said to a little boy 'could you give that to mummy?' as I pointed at a toy which he was looking at so he was using his listening brain, through his hearing aids.  When he picked it up and gave it to mummy, to see the tears roll down the mum's face made me feel like crying too... with joy.  She didn't know her little boy could do that. And I loved sharing that in our webinar and we all saw the joy of that mum. Little things like that and the big things too - when a child comes out with language that he has overheard.... it is just such a WOW! time... and it amazes me every time to see how the brain can learn to listen.    

Having mentors who genuinely seemed to care about me - who said such wonderful things of encouragement to me - always a highlight for me. 

I loved the podcasts too - such fantastic teaching. I couldn't get enough of it. 

Finally, making new friends through the course even though we don't get to meet often.  Five of us are meeting up in June at the LSLS conference in Madrid - although we haven't seen each other apart from through Skype, we feel as if we are friends and it is so wonderful to have like-minded people to share AVT with. 

Of course, the challenges were there too - in particular, the frustration I felt with myself at times when I tried so hard and things didn't go the way I wanted and when I felt a little out of my depth at the start. But gradually those times lessened and I learnt how to deal with the difficult times. 

How did it feel to become an AVT Cert?

It felt absolutely amazing!! When I saw that I had passed the 4 hour exam, I was so excited! I rushed out of the building to find my husband who has been such a wonderful support to me. He was waiting anxiously, knowing how much it mattered to me to pass. I couldn't wait to let the world know.

People were so kindly praying for me, thinking about me and rooting for me - I must have sent a dozen or more texts within two minutes just saying "I PASSED!!!!!"  I was absolutely delighted.  

I have worked very hard over these past three and a half years, first of all in my practice with families and then these last three months in studying for the very tough exam. I am so delighted that now on the island of Ireland, north and south, there is a qualified AVT but this is just the beginning.... I know others will follow me and I want to encourage and inspire as many as I can. 

What advice would you give to people currently on the course and those considering the course?

My advice is to go for it - it is fabulous training, so well thought out.  My only regret is that I didn't do it years ago...

Don't hesitate at all, go for it! You will be given all the support you need.  

Rosie Gardner.