Happy birthday Bruce

This week Bruce turned 80.

I’ve never met Bruce yet I believe I have a strong sense of him. Bruce is a man who I see as – in the Australian vernacular – as a bloody determined man. Bruce and his wife Annette in the late 60s started their family. To their shock, both children were born deaf. Surveying what services were available in Australia to help children with a hearing loss communicate, Bruce wasn’t happy!

He wanted children who were deaf or hearing impaired to learn to speak, enter mainstream schools and take up mainstream jobs. As he believed there were no suitable programs in Australia for this, he started his own based on the John Tracy Clinic in Los Angeles.

Over 40 years later, I have the pleasure of working for The Shepherd Centre, the Organisation he and his late wife Annette founded. While they may have started using the John Tracy Clinic as a base, I suspect The Shepherd Centre has grown organically into a place founded on those principles but with a distinctly Australian bent.

Dr Bruce Shepherd

My road to the Shepherd Centre has been a little odd. Unlike many colleagues who knew they wanted to work with children who have a hearing loss, my only career specification was to remain with the not for profit sector. When I first started there and people talked about the cochlea, auditory nerves and sensory neural losses, I used to say I’ve been working for 10 years with eyes, not ears!

Despite my initial bamboozlement – should that be a word – it wasn’t long before I found my feet and I must say a fascination and deep respect  for what many of my colleagues do. Last week I got to join a group of masters students (soon to be speech pathologists) in observing an Auditory Verbal Therapy sessions with a 2 1/2 year old girl and her mum. While I know that both mum and Shepherd Centre staff member were working very hard trying to teach the little girl, at times, it was hysterical and just looked like loads of fun – not to mention mess! (My brave colleague thinks nothing of giving 2 1/2 year old children a tub of yoghurt or a bottle of food colouring). At one point I laughed so hard, I had tears running down my face.

My encounters with the children are brief – usually in the lobby, outside, or in the kitchen. (Although, the other day I was having a discussion with my boss when a little boy walked in unexpectedly asking for his pirate hat to be repaired!)

It was in the kitchen one day that I had a funny little encounters. I walked in to make myself a cup of tea to discover that a ‘therapy session’ was taking place in the kitchen. There was mum, two kids – a boy and a girl – and one of my colleagues. ‘We’re baking!’ the little girl excitedly announced as I walked into the room. Baking mini cupcakes actually. At this point I wasn’t sure if it was the boy or girl who had a hearing loss. About half an hour later, a host of other kids had arrived for a weekly group session. We were a bit short on staff, so I went outside to help ‘supervise’. (Yes, I know – me with children. I still feel more at ease with the furry variety!) There was the little girl and my colleague Jen icing the cupcakes. Spotting the aids this time, I knew it was the girl who had a hearing loss. (Many of the kids speak so well, that it’s hard to tell!)

‘Can I have a cupcake?’

She was engrossed in icing them, so Jen prompted her:

‘Are you going to make one for Lysh?’


And with that I was given a mini iced cupcake. I looked at the little girl’s hands. She had icing all over them.

Jen said to her ‘what do we do when our hands get dirty?’

Her response:  ‘LICK THEM!’

Canberra Shepherd Centre’s 10th anniversary

Over the years The Shepherd Centre has helped more than 1,000 children develop spoken language. (Yes, you can see who the database person is! Unlike the pictures, I didn’t steal the number from their website.)

I have no doubt that Bruce ticked more than a few people off over the years in his dogged determination to establish a program which taught only speech, not sign. As for the people he annoyed, I daresay he wouldn’t care! Bruce and his late wife Annette, added another choice of service for parents and that can only be a good thing.

This week on facebook there have been a collection of stories about some of the children the Shepherd Centre has helped in celebration of Bruce’s birthday.  There have also been a number of comments from Bruce’s family as well as past and current parents. I thought I’d finish this blog post with just one of them from a mum. (See The Shepherd Centre’s facebook page for more).

Happy Birthday Bruce 🙂 The Shepherd Centre is amazing.  We wouldn’t be where we are today if we didnt have it….everytime i get a comment like “wow you would never know she is deaf” and my daughters latest public speaking award, we owe it all to you and the staff. Without you none of this would be possible.

Disclaimer: The above blog post contains my personal views and opinions and should not be attributed in any way to my employer. (It’s sad that we have to write such disclaimers in social media… but that’s a whole other blog post!)


Posted on October 28, 2012, in Disability, Life and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Inspirational stuff. I am interested in why the children don’t learn to sign as well.

    • I’m no expert, but my understanding is that it is considered best to focus on learning spoken language through use of hearing aids and cochlear implants while they are young so their auditory nerves are stimulated. If the parts of the brain assigned to “listening” aren’t use, they get reassigned to something else. This is why sometimes people say that people who are blind can have their other senses more developed than others. I think the argument goes that you can always learn sign later should you wish but once the auditory pathway is lost, it’s lost. That’s my incredibly layman’s explanation and I’m sure someone could give a better one!

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