MUM Niamh Lenihan was determined that her son Cian, who was born deaf, would never feel the odd one out just because he wears a hearing aid.
Once he was gone to bed at night, she would search endlessly online for toy hearing aids that her youngest son could put on his beloved teddy bears, just to normalise them in his mind.
One night, in desperation, Niamh, from Passage West, asked her husband, Marc, if there was any way they could make the toy hearing aids themselves.
After all, the mum was always cutting out different materials for her personalised ‘frames for all occasions’ business.
Marc, who works as a carpenter in the Navy, agreed to give it a go.
“He went about cutting out the hearing aids himself from hard plastic and they turned out brilliantly,” says Niamh. “He was able to make them identical to the hearing aids that Cian wore when he was small.”
The toy hearing aids can be slipped over the teddy’s ears, or alternatively can be sewn on.
“Cian has so many teddies that there was never any point in sewing the little hearing aids onto them,” laughs Niamh, before pointing out the serious part of the project.
“Putting the hearing aids on his favourite teddy made him feel that he wasn’t the only one in the family wearing hearing aids.
“It got him into the routine of putting them on in the morning and taking them off at bedtime,” Niamh points out.
This was a huge relief, not just for Niamh and Marc but also for their other children, Anna and Zac.
“Anna was seven when Cian was born and she took his deafness diagnosis really hard. She worried that Cian wouldn’t have friends and about how he would look with the hearing aids on.
“Zac was only four when Cian was born so he didn’t really react,” Niamh says.
She still gets emotional, thinking back to the day six-year-old Cian was diagnosed with permanent moderate hearing loss in both ears.
“It was a terrible shock. It took all the joy of the birth away. The first couple of weeks are an absolute blur to me. It was horrendous. I cried every day. I accept it but I don’t think I’ll ever be over it,” she admits.
“My husband Marc is an absolute rock, he’s amazing. I don’t know what I would have done without him.”
Family and friends rallied round and the HSE were on hand from day one to provide Cian and the family with all the services they needed.
“From the time you find out the diagnosis, you get a paediatrician, an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist, a social worker and a teacher for the deaf,” says Niamh.
“The speech and language service is all free. It’s all provided by the HSE in the public system. I couldn’t fault it at all.”
Cian is now six and his speech is excellent. “He has speech and language classes all the time and he’s flying it,” Niamh acknowledges.
The Star of the Sea Primary School in Passage West has come up trumps in helping to ensure Cian never feels the odd one out in his class.
He started in Junior Infants class last September. His teacher, Ms. Cunningham, introduced all the pupils to the class teddy that has his own set of hearing aids provided by Niamh and Marc. Everyone in the class gets their chance to bring teddy home for one night.
“The facilities that are available in the school to help Cian are just fantastic. He’s getting on really well... but he hates the homework,” Niamh laughs.
Cian tells me: “Teddy helps me to do my homework. He loves doing it. He’s a great helper.”
He is now well adjusted to the fact he is a hearing aid user and that he can’t hear without them. There are times, however, that Cian chooses not to hear what’s going on.
“He is not beyond taking out the hearing aids when they’re doing Irish at school,” Niamh laughs.
The aids are now available to buy in attractive packaging, complete with a personalised message from Niamh. They are for sale for a nominal sum in the Passage West Creates Craft Shop.
A selection of Niamh’s personalised frames for special occasions such as births and First Communions are also available in the Craft Shop, which opens from Thursday to Sunday each week.
She is more than willing to talk to parents of a child newly diagnosed with hearing loss and to provide them with the hearing aids for their child’s teddy.
Niamh was one of the first people to get involved in the Passage West Creates collective and knows well the importance of co-operation and mutual support.
So too does Siobhan Stone, who has made denim quilts as presents for a sizeable number of babies in Passage West.
“People are always giving me their old denim jeans so now I make reversible denim aprons for adults and children that are on sale in the Craft Shop, along with my denim and tweed bags,” says Siobhan.
Passage West Creates has developed into a community where everyone looks out for one another. It’s no wonder Niamh and Siobhan and all the other craft workers cherish that sense of belonging.
For more information, see Passage West Creates on Facebook or phone (087) 224 1540; Find Say It In Frames on Facebook or contact Niamh Lenihan on (087) 6130637.