Taking great strides in her silent world

Parents who did not give up, a young girl who did not allow her hearing impairment get in the way of achieving her dreams. This is the story of Shenuka Dias
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

She feels and smells the rain, but doesn’t hear the patter of raindrops on the roof or against the window-pane. Pretty Shenuka Dias, encouraged and supported by her parents, however, has not let her hearing impairment be in the way of achieving what she wanted. Turning 29 on February 28, she is standing tall on her own and works from her home at Rajagiriya as a graphics designer.

The road has been long and hard, strewn with many a challenge but Shenuka is what she is today because of her parents, Sonali and Ranil, who simply didn’t give up on her. Mother Sonali realized that all was not right with their nine-month-old baby girl whenever the bell at the Yacht Club clanged jarringly loud, vibrating for several moments. The little girl though slept through it all and only shook for the vibrations Sonali noticed many times because husband Ranil was often at the Yacht Club with hopes of taking part in the yachting event at the Olympics.

These were the “little indications”, says Sonali still emotional when thinking about those early years, adding that when they spoke to Shenuka she would frown and try very hard to understand what they were saying.

After many visits to doctors, the confirmation came that indeed Shenuka was hearing impaired and the “emptiness was overwhelming”, recalls Sonali, for doctors just didn’t hold out any hope for them.
The devastating news came at a time when Ranil was competing at the Olympics in 1984 and Sonali bore it alone, not wanting to upset him during his attempt at an Olympic win.

Throughout their trials and tribulations, one thing that Sonali clung to was God’s grace. It was in 1985 that they went to England to get Shenuka screened, for Sonali was adamant that she would not resort to sign language to speak to her daughter.

The memories flow of huge leather chairs in the waiting room of the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Specialist, Dr. Martin Bailey, considered one of the best at Harley Street at that time. Shenuka who was two years old had stretched out her hand in greeting and the doctor’s response had been, “You have one helluva child here.....You don’t have to worry.”

“That was the first positive feedback that we had got,” giving a silver lining to their devastation. It had been Sonali’s instinct which made her determined to treat Shenuka like any other child and not one with a disability. It was also during that visit to England that Shenuka was fitted with a hearing aid and responded very well by humming out the sound. She had profound hearing loss of about 80%.
Four years after Shenuka, the family expanded, with Rehan’s birth and sister and brother interacted closely, a bond still as strong as ever evidenced by the poignant video that she has done for his graduation last year titled, ‘The man you’ve become’.

But that would be in the future and it was on their return from England that strenuous speech therapy sessions began. Explaining that “sometimes Shenuka was lazy to pronounce words”, Sonali recalls the stringent regimen of speech therapy that she insisted on, which enabled her to articulate the words clearly, unlike many others with a similar impairment.

As a pre-schooler it was to ‘Joe’s School for Speech Therapy’ at Thimbirigasyaya that Shenuka went, followed by audiology and speech therapy at the Ratmalana School for the Deaf. For her regular lessons she first attended the primary of Ladies’ College, then Alethea International and finally Stafford International.

Proud moment: Graduating from La Salle, Singapore

“We never isolated Shenuka,” says Sonali, explaining that even as a baby she would take her in the carry-cot wherever she went, very much a part of all family functions and outings. “She was even the little maid at the wedding of a cousin.”

Both Sonali and Ranil also kept looking for new methods to make Shenuka fit into society without a problem. They contacted the John Tracy Clinic in America getting a continuous stream of material including booklets to better educate Shenuka.

In 1998, on a visit to the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles, America, to check out whether a cochlear implant could be performed on Shenuka, the body-worn hearing aid had been replaced by the one fitted behind the ear.

Having not only done her studies but also basketball, swimming, sailing and painting, Shenuka sat for her London Ordinary Level and once she passed the family was at a crossroad once again. Graphic designing being her passion, it was La Salle College of the Arts in Singapore that she set her sights on and there she lived alone for five long years from May 2005. Before her departure, she had interned at Affno and while on holiday from Singapore at the Triad Advertising Company.

On her return, however, she decided to spread her wings by “going freelance”, smiles Shenuka, leading us to the table and switching on her computer where we enter a magical world – beautifully designed wedding cards, hymn sheets and also web layouts, all produced under Shenddesign Studio (

With her own unique style and also able to manage independently, her parents are worried no more. To the question that used to assail her, “Why us?”, Sonali has found her answer. “We were ‘chosen’ for a purpose,” says Sonali, “and we have fulfilled it to the best of our ability against all odds.”

This is also the message that Sonali is trying to spread among parents who have children with disabilities – Don’t isolate or hide them, for they have much potential. She, of course, is speaking through experience.

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