Happy 18th Birthday Auditory Verbal UK – as we celebrate our coming of age, we take a look back at where it all began and hear from some of those involved. And at the end of a year like no other, we look forward to the future and our plans for creating a sound future for many more children in the UK.

Our founder Jacqueline Stokes began providing independent Auditory Verbal therapy to families in the UK in 1999 and then in December 2002, she recruited our first trustees and registered as a charity under the name The Auditory Verbal Centre. This meant the new charity could deliver therapy to families nationwide and expand access to an AV programme that was already delivering excellent outcomes for children with hearing loss in Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Jacqueline StokesJacqueline’s vision was to provide holistic support for the child and family and it is her passion and determination that every deaf child should have access to AV therapy that lives on in the charity today.

Her youngest daughter, Francesca, who was 11 in 2002 remembers the day well.

She said: “It was a day of such great excitement. And it was wonderful to be involved from the very beginning.” Jacqueline began delivering therapy from her Oxfordshire home and Francesca explained:

Mum always used everything as a listening opportunity and I remember my sisters and I trying to creep into the kitchen in the school holidays to get some food and hear Mum saying ‘What’s that noise? Is it a mouse?’ We would then be introduced – and when I hear from some of these people who were small children in my home and are now at university it blows my mind.

Alex Woolgar, Jaqueline's oldest daughter said:

I think what was so special about my mum is that she always saw each kid where they were, she understood that all behaviour is communication and that there is a reason for every behaviour: Like a baby who repeatedly removes their aids - mum would fight to get their levels re-assessed. Kids don't do things for no reason or to be difficult, and this insight made her so special and so effective. 

Jacqueline shared this way of thinking in all her training of professionals wanting to improve outcomes for children.

From left to right, Alex Woolgar, Madeleine Woolgar, Jacqueline and Francesa

Alex added: “I was so proud and moved that when Jacqueline died in 2013, we received SO MANY letters and cards from AV families across the UK and Europe - whose lives had been profoundly changed because of my mum. Many had worked with her directly but in some cases, they had never met her and only worked with someone she trained, but still wrote to tell us how grateful they were that she changed their lives.”

Madeleine added: “I have so many happy and proud memories growing up with AV UK. 

I remember at an early AV UK family party watching two little girls that mum was working with (who’d previously been told they would never listen and speak like their peers) sitting on a wall chatting together non-stop. 

And the first time mum drove me down the driveway at Bignell Park Barns (happily pointing out the language opportunities the surrounding fields provided), then later moving into the bigger unit and helping with face painting there at AVUK’s 5th birthday party. 

I remember Mum checking her microphone before her speech on accepting the Schmid-Giovannini Award for outstanding Auditory Verbal therapists: She spoke directly to one of the AVUK graduates in the audience asking “Can you hear me?” and this little girl answered without looking up from her colouring, “Yes, Jacqueline”. The ease with which this girl heard and responded was a seemingly simple moment but was the culmination of the hours of work, belief and tenacity my mum and the parents had poured into this child.  

Memories are easier to put into words than the impossibility of trying to sum up all that my mum was in relation to AVUK: From her extraordinary way of helping a parent to feel more hopeful without ignoring their fears and sadness, to how she inspired her team to want to go the extra mile to support this mission, not to mention her sheer tenacity in setting up a charity. It is wonderful to see it continue to grow. Happy 18th Birthday AVUK! 

Isobel Weller, AVUK Family Support Officer, worked with Jacqueline when she delivered sessions to children and families in her home before AVUK was officially established.

“The first question Jacqueline always asked families when she met them was – What are your hopes and dreams for your child? And she remained true to this striving to meet the family’s dreams but always tinged with realism.”

And Francesca also remembers this belief and passion. She said: “It was her pure belief in every little person and their parents that they could do it and could get to where they wanted to be.”

Elizabeth Tyszkiewicz joined AVUK in 2003 when she was the only other AV therapist practising in the UK. She said: “Jacqueline had a real, pragmatic optimism and she always inspired people to be hopeful and not sad.”

James Curtis is now 20 – he remembers his sessions with Jacqueline at her home in Oxford. Now in his final year at Durham University studying History, James said: “Today I speak as well as any of my friends, enjoy the same opportunities and live the same life. It is thanks to my hearing technology, focused Auditory Verbal therapy (which AVUK succeeded in making fun) and my mum’s tenacity and determination for me to succeed that I am incredibly happy, fulfilled and able to communicate with anyone (in multiple languages!). Most people do not realise that I am deaf until I tell them.”

James has included his own special birthday wish.

Jacqueline’s central reason to establish AVUK as a charity was to increase access to Auditory Verbal practice across the UK. In 2008, we launched our family bursary scheme which has grown significantly.

Sisters Sade and Topaz both attended the AVUK programme at Jacqueline’s home and have very fond memories of their sessions. The family are all huge supporters of the charity which ensured that they can live their lives to their full potential.

Ariella is currently attending the AVUK programme and her Mum explained:

When looking into AVUK initially, it was very handy seeing the fees and the bursary assistance on the website.  Knowing what the upfront cost was but also knowing how much discount could potentially be given gave me the push to contact AVUK.  Had the bursary information not been provided or worse still, had a bursary not been offered, I would not have contacted AVUK at all. I simply would not have even tried.  It sounded amazing, but the cost without a bursary made it unachievable for us. 

Support for all families has continued throughout a momentous 2020 with all sessions moving to online platforms and dealing with understandable concerns from families. Going forward many families have chosen to continue with online therapy or a mixture of this and face to face sessions.

Elizabeth added:

I have been privileged to be involved with AVUK for so long and it’s fantastic to see that the inspiration of one person continues alongside vital and important professionalism and development. There is still so much energy and initiative in the team just like Jacqueline had.

Isobel too is delighted to see the charity move on while remaining loyal to its foundations. She said:

Jacqueline encouraged us all to maintain the original vision of gold standard therapy becoming as widely available as possible. This is something Anita (Grover) inherited and has remained true to since becoming CEO in 2013, since when, AVUK has continued to grow as an organisation and achieve wide recognition and respect. Over the past year because of its pioneering use of telepractice AVUK’s operations have continued with resilience and creativity despite the pandemic, and we can look forward to the next 18 years with hope and expectation.

Anita said:

We owe so much to the vision and determination of Jacqueline Stokes when she established Auditory Verbal UK 18 years ago. I am also extremely grateful to everyone who has supported our work and enabled us to become the charity that we are today. We are very proud to have supported families right across the UK and trained professionals around the world in Auditory Verbal practice. But there is still so much to be done. We want all deaf children to have the same opportunities in life as their hearing peers. Far too many children in the UK are still missing out on effective support in the critical early years of their lives. Whether a child uses spoken language, sign language or both, families need support right from the start. We will continue our work in 2021 to call on the UK Government to make the necessary investment that will enable deaf children in the UK to have the same opportunities in life as their hearing peers.