Mateo's story: a lesson in inclusion we can all learn from
Children like Mateo are at heart of the European Child Guarantee
“Mateo is a very gentle, kind boy. He taught us all empathy and how it is to be in your own closed world, and yet so open. That is where his beauty lies, to achieve greatness through small steps”, Ivančica Treska, a preschool teacher at his kindergarten "Dječja mašta" in Čakovec describes six-year-old Mateo. Mateo has been in her kindergarten group since nursery school, where he was enrolled as a hearing child. However, thanks to her and the rest of the kindergarten team, it was determined that he has hearing disability.
“Through Mateo's behaviour, my colleague and I saw certain delays compared to other children. We consulted a psychologist and referred the parents for further testing. MURID (Medjimurje Association for Early Childhood Intervention) helped us a lot in working with Mateo. They organized various workshops, their rehabilitation specialist came to our kindergarten, we worked with him through pictures, we included other children, explained to them how to communicate, and play with Mateo. Any support by an expert means a lot”, explains preschool teacher Ivančica, who had not worked with children with hearing impairments until she met Mateo.
Medjimurje Association for Early Childhood Intervention - MURID is one of the implementing partners of UNICEF Croatia Phase III of the pilot programme: “Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union. Thanks to the support of experts, Mateo received an interdisciplinary approach to early intervention services for children with hearing impairments, and his kindergarten group was able to be supported to communicate with him, so they all sang us a song together in sign language.
Mateo’s mom Valentina recalls the initial shock when she realized that her son, whom she believed was a healthy child until kindergarten, had hearing impairment in both ears.
“Mateo had regular medical records at the hospital when he was born, but we noticed the first signs of deafness when he started nursery, when he met his peers and developmental delays appeared. Kindergarten psychologist and an acquaintance of ours recommended MURID where they gave us an initial assessment. After that we did a complete thorough check-up by a series of specialists to finally receive a diagnosis of hearing loss, event though we still do not know the cause of that damage”, says his mother.
After undergoing a wide array of specialist treatments and after almost two years of waiting, they were given a diagnosis of bilateral hearing damage, which means 100% deafness. They returned to MURID with these medical records.
“Mateo had a lot of problems with concentration in his first years and we had to work on it. They urged us to continue to seek additional help and we attended additional training in sign language. After he was diagnosed with deafness, teachers and professional associates all got involved to assure Mateo has a pleasant stay in kindergarten and feels accepted. Without all that support, it would be very difficult for us. Until the diagnosis was known, we communicated with him by speaking and then we had to learn everything from scratch. Although we still talk today in front of him, people sometimes ask us why if he can't hear us, but we continue to do so as a habit from the period when we did not know about his deafness yet”, Valentina explains.
Preschool teacher Ivančica Treska adds that it is not easy for parents to realize they have a child with difficulties, from facing this problem to finding answers to all the questions that arise. Mateo has been well accepted in kindergarten, he has been with the same children since his nursery group.
“Deafness is a very abstract concept and it is very difficult to explain to children what it means that another child does not hear you. They communicate with him in the most normal way, they are already pre-schoolers, so they understand a lot. It is a daily learning opportunity where we guide children when they want to play with him, how to approach him, how to talk to him, which signs to use...”, Ivančica adds.
Tatjana Trupković has been Mateo's assistant for the past three years, helping him communicate with children and teachers. They learn sign language together and play.
“I am his voice now, I help him completely with communication because he can't speak, he tells me what he wants in sign language and then I pass it on to teachers. He communicates completely in sign language. I believe that it was much harder for him before he had an assistant, which can be seen through how much he started interacting with other children since I came", says assistant Tatjana, who helped us talk to Mateo. Although shy, he revealed to us that he can’t wait to go to school where, he says, he will write and learn a lot.
With the main aim of reducing child poverty and social exclusion for all children across the European Union, the European Commission, in partnership with UNICEF, is implementing a pilot-program "Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee" in Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and Spain.
Croatia was given the opportunity to take part in the pilot programme Testing of the EU Child Guarantee, in cooperation with the European Commission and UNICEF, to work on solving child poverty and social exclusion. The aim of the pilot is to develop new service models and best practices for children and their families. UNICEF is using its experience, partnerships and capacities by modeling integrated multidisciplinary, and adequately funded family and community services in Medjimurje County, a region with limited access to child protection and family support services. UNICEF's approach includes three components: access to integrated child protection and family support services, access to early childhood education and access to integrated and coordinated early childhood intervention services.
© UNICEF, 2021 “The information and views set out in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.”
MURID is implementing partner of the UNICEF Office in Croatia for the implementation of the pilot programme “Phase III: Testing the Child Guarantee in Croatia”, funded by the European Union.