Though hearing-impaired, five-year-old Leo speaks exceptional Italian as well as his mother tongue, English.
Leo is so confident in his Italian skills that, this year, he joined his older brother Max at the Italian Bilingual School in Meadowbank.
Leo’s parents, David and Danielle Henderson, chose to send their sons to a bilingual school to give them a greater understanding of Italian culture, which runs in their blood.
Mrs Henderson’s parents came to Australia from Calabria, and have passed down the Italian language through the generations here.
Though having no Italian heritage, Mr Henderson has studied Italian and can hold his ground in a conversation, despite Leo and Max teasing him occasionally for not being able to roll his Rs.
“I think language is the key to accessing culture and I hold second languages in high esteem,” Mrs Henderson said.
The mother-of-two is pleased to report that her youngest son is settling in well to primary school life, and so far his only issue has been not having as much time to play and colour in.
“We were really concerned that two languages would be challenging for him, but he seems to have adapted very well to the second language at school and has shown great enthusiasm for it,” she added.
“In many ways Italian is a beautiful language and it’s very musical so he’s having fun with it.”
A natural linguist, Leo was born eight weeks premature and spent the first six weeks battling for his life.
Following their son’s diagnosis of moderate to severe hearing loss, Mr and Mrs Henderson reached out for support and information and, in turn, found The Shepherd Centre, a non-profit organisation dedicated to providing assistance to deaf or hearing-impaired children.
At four months old, Leo began early intervention therapy, becoming one of the 2000 children that The Shepherd Centre has helped over the past 47 years.
“The Shepherd Centre taught us as parents how to teach him to hear,” Mrs Henderson said.
“When he was a tiny baby all we really did was prune his brain to hear sound, with lots of singing and making core sounds that are critical to hearing.”
At two years old, Leo seemed to be falling behind in some of his age-appropriate skills compared to his hearing peers, so his parents decided to explore the possibility of cochlear implants, with the help of The Shepherd Centre.
“They supported that choice by helping us to understand the risks and benefits, in particular the academic outcomes for children with hearing impairments, and the difference that cochlear implants can make,” Mrs Henderson said.
Leo received his first implant shortly after, and got his second implant last year, benefiting from the monitoring, support and education that The Shepherd Centre has offered his family the entire time.
Now, thanks to the wonderful work of The Shepherd Centre and the supportive environment at the Italian Bilingual School, Leo seems to be thriving as one of the school’s latest additions.