When Lisa and Anthony Harrington-Jones discovered their son Mason had lost his hearing, they feared what the future held for him.
Then a few years later his younger brother Blake was also diagnosed with hearing loss.
But with the help and support of The Elizabeth Foundation charity, the boys have come on in leaps and bounds.
As proud Lisa watched her fun-loving toddler grow, she noticed something was not quite right.
Mason was still a boisterous little boy, full of life, but something had changed.
She realised his speech was not as good as other children and he had lost his sense of balance.
Fearful, Lisa, 34, consulted her health visitor, who referred Mason to hospital for tests for hearing loss.
Within a few months Mason was diagnosed as being deaf.
Lisa, from Milton, Portsmouth, says it was a huge blow to the family. ‘I was devastated at first, because I had never known anything like it in our family or with our friends.
‘It was all so new. It wasn’t until Mason was two-and-a-half that we realised something was wrong.
‘We noticed his speech wasn’t as good as other children. His balance was all over the place.
‘I spoke to a health visitor and arranged for him to have some hearing tests at the hospital.
‘A few months later he was diagnosed with hearing loss. It’s moderate to severe – which means he is very reliant on hearing aids.
‘He can hear but he has a high-frequency loss so certain sounds he can’t hear. He misses out high-pitched sounds like oooh or eee.
‘It was very difficult for him to understand speech.’
At first, Lisa and husband Anthony, 36, were overwhelmed with Mason’s diagnosis. But they were referred to The Elizabeth Foundation in Cosham, which supports babies and pre-school children with hearing loss – and their families.
Staff provide education services, help, support and encouragement, not just for the child but for the whole family.
Mason, now five, did not undergo any operations, but had two hearing aids fitted. With the foundation’s help the family were given advice on how to help Mason’s speech improve.
It was not long before Lisa was pregnant with her second child, Blake.
She says: ‘We knew there was a strong possibility that Blake would have the same condition.
‘Both of them had normal hearing at birth and Blake was tested straight away and it showed it was normal.
‘But between one-and-a-half and two his hearing deteriorated.
‘It was a devastating blow. I thought, “why me, why have we got another child with hearing loss?”
‘I took it harder with Blake than with Mason’.
And that is where support from The Elizabeth Foundation helped again.
Lisa says: ‘Mason started as a pre-schooler and Blake started as a toddler.
‘They go in for auditory training and activities that involve lots of language and talking and different sounds.
‘They have free play but it’s classroom-led.
‘They would not have come on as far as they have without it. Not only are they teaching the kids, they also teach me a lot as well – things which are specific to their hearing loss.
‘There are certain letters and sounds they can’t hear that we didn’t know about.
‘They showed us games that we can play at home to help them.
‘We are so grateful to them. I know it sounds really dramatic, but I don’t think life would be the same without them. They have been such a crutch throughout this.’
She adds: ‘We don’t know why they have hearing loss. It’s not hereditary in the family.
‘There is no fix for the type of hearing loss they have, so we didn’t want to put them through lots of tests to see why they have it, because nothing will change it.’
Both Mason and Blake, now three, are getting along well now.
Mason is in mainstream school and a specialist hearing teacher comes in once a month to check that he is doing okay.
‘They are happy with his level of hearing’, says Lisa.
‘His school teacher wears a microphone aid around a small necklace that sends her voice directly into his ear. His speech is perfect.
‘Blake’s speech is severely delayed but he has only had his hearing aid for a year. We are beginning to see improvements. And since we’ve been attending The Elizabeth Foundation his speech is getting better all the time.
‘We’ve been quite lucky with the hearing aids. When they first had them they tried to pull them out.
‘They were curious with them and tried to take them apart. We had to make sure they didn’t break them. And now they each like having them in because of the sound difference.
‘Because they could hear with them in, they appreciated them. They’re both getting along very well now’.
The Elizabeth Foundation is based in the grounds of Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham.
It was founded in 1981 by Shirley and David Metherell, whose daughter, Elizabeth, was diagnosed as profoundly deaf when she was 22 months old.
In response to a lack of local support for Elizabeth, and inspired by the John Tracey Clinic in Los Angeles, Shirley and David set up and developed The Elizabeth Foundation to support other parents of newly-diagnosed children with hearing loss.
Sue Campbell, the charity’s chief executive officer, says: ‘Since then we have supported hundreds of deaf children and their families in our Family Centre in Portsmouth, helping the children learn to listen and talk so they can reach their true potential.
‘We work closely with the wonderful children’s audiology team at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, in a unique and pioneering relationship.
‘This means that from the moment a baby is diagnosed with hearing loss, they and their family are able to access our early intervention programme right up until they are ready to start school.
‘We rely on the generosity of our supporters and the local community to continue to provide our vital services, and are hugely grateful for the strong local support we receive.’
Recently there was an arson attack which damaged signage and guttering.
To donate go to elizabeth-foundation.org or call (023) 9237 2735.