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Ezekiel is a musical maestro

Photo: Baby and toddler music groups helped Ezekiel and his family.

When Ezekiel was first identified as deaf, his family had lots of questions, including whether he’d be able to share their love of music. But at just 14 months old, Ezekiel is already using music to learn, bond with his family and have fun.

Shortly after Ezekiel’s birth, parents Katerina and Leon were told that their son may have some level of deafness. “He was born in a water birth,” says Katerina. “They said it could just be water in his ears, but about four weeks later we went for the actual testing and they confirmed he has a hearing loss.”

Ezekiel was identified as having moderate deafness in both ears and was fitted with hearing aids shortly afterwards. For Katerina and Leon, who are both hearing and have no deaf family members, finding out about their son’s deafness was difficult at first.

“It was a complete shock,” says Katerina, who’s also mum to Iliana (2) and step-mum to Teliah (8). “You almost go into mourning because you don’t ever want anything to be wrong with your child – it doesn’t matter what it is.

“Everything goes through your head. It’s not like we had anyone in the family who was deaf, so it was completely new. But the more we go on, the more I think, ‘Why did I worry?’”

Initially, Katerina and Leon had lots of questions, ranging from how Ezekiel’s deafness would affect him in school to how he would hear alarms in an emergency. They also worried that his hearing loss may be a barrier to him enjoying music – something that’s very important to them as a family.

For both parents, music is a way of connecting to their families’ heritages. Leon’s family is from Jamaica and he loves sharing Jamaican culture with his children through music. Meanwhile, Katerina enjoys playing them the traditional songs loved by her Greek father.

“I’ve always loved music,” Katerina says. “Growing up, there was always Greek music in the house. My dad emigrated from Greece. When he moved it was not like he had Facebook, so all he had was music to connect him back to where he came from.”

Katerina and Leon also filled their home with music and it didn’t take long to see that Ezekiel was a music lover too. “When he’s crying, I sing a Greek song to him and he won't look anywhere else but at me,” says Katerina. “He watches people’s mouths moving. With music, he just focuses a lot more. He seems to love it.”

Looking to encourage Ezekiel’s interest in music, the family soon began going to local baby and toddler music groups. After a recommendation from Ezekiel’s Teacher of the Deaf, they decided to go to BabyBeats – a free interactive music workshop designed especially for deaf children in their early years and their families.

Designed by cochlear implant manufacturer Advanced Bionics, BabyBeats aims to help parents support their deaf child with social, language and pre-reading skills through music. Advanced Bionics also offers a BabyBeats app, which allows families to try different music activities at home.

To Katerina, it was clear Ezekiel enjoyed dancing and playing games, while also learning. “The best thing was that reassurance that he can enjoy music like any other child,” says Katerina.

The family also enjoyed spending quality time together, with big sister Iliana joining in and having fun. For Katerina and Leon, it’s important to make sure Ezekiel’s sisters get involved and understand his deafness.

“Iliana’s very young to try and understand it, but she obviously does,” says Katerina. “If Ezekiel takes out his hearing aids, Iliana will literally run over to tell me, or even take them off him and bring them to me! She’s just been brilliant.”

Teliah, Leon’s daughter from a previous relationship, lives with her mum but visits often. She also loves spending time with her younger siblings and learning more about Ezekiel’s deafness.

“Teliah’s amazing with Ezekiel and Iliana – she’s a typical older, bigger sister. She came with us to a playgroup run by Teachers of the Deaf and learned lots. At home, we’ve always got music on, so she’ll dance around with Ezekiel and Iliana.

“I think it’s so important to involve the older children. Iliana comes along when Ezekiel gets his hearing aid moulds done. I think it’s good for her to see to help her understand. As they get older, there may be some jealousy about all the time I spend at hospital appointments and things with him, so it helps for her to be involved and understand why.”

But for Katerina, a huge benefit of BabyBeats was spending time with other families with deaf children and finding a sense of community. “When you first get told your child is deaf, you do feel alone and think ‘Who do I ask?’ and ‘Who do I get advice from?’ Groups like this are what keep you from worrying a lot of the time. When you don’t have any deaf people in the family, they’re the best people to talk to.

“I think it’s important for someone coming from a family that hasn’t got any experience of deafness to make sure that you speak to people who are in a similar position. That’s what’s helped me to understand. Otherwise, you’re just sat at home in your own little world and you don’t have anyone else to ask questions.

“My hope for the future is that Ezekiel just continues to do as well as he’s doing. Having that support network around you is massive, so I’ll just keep making sure he’s getting everything he needs.”

Winter 2022 Families magazine