Michael’s Story

January 27th, 2008 by | Tags: , , , | 27 Comments »

Michael, one of the 2008 Graeme Clark Scholarship winners, and I have been corresponding to each other about our experiences growing up with our cochlear implants. He and I grew up with very similar paths. We both first received our cochlear implant at the age of 2 and a half years old, were raised to learn to hear and speak without sign language, and went to mainstream schools throughout our lives. He was very involved in extracurricular activities in high school and also won many honors and achievements too. He is now a first-year student at Southern Methodist University and is double majoring in business administration and advertising. He is definitely an example of today’s typical cochlear implant user! He sent me a nice article about him from The Dallas Morning News and an essay that he wrote for the Graeme Clark Scholarship. Here is Michael’s essay:

“Your son, Michael, will never be able to hear, speak, or do the things a normal person would do,” my parents were told. I was diagnosed as being profoundly deaf at the age of fifteen months. My world seemed as if it had come to a narrow passage with very limited opportunities. However, it was the beginning of something unforeseen and beyond normal. All future dreams and visions seemed shattered, but they were actually expanding to a whole new dimension a normal-hearing person would never experience. I received the cochlear implant at a very young age, and since then I have thrived in the mainstream world. I have been in public schools with all normal hearing students since the first grade and have been tremendously successful. I feel like I have been immensely blessed to have a cochlear implant that can help me hear, speak, and communicate with others. With this blessing, I feel a duty to participate in mainstream society and endeavor to be the best I can be in as many possible opportunities in the mainstream world. So far, I have managed to rank number eight in my class, complete twenty-nine hours at Brookhaven Community College, and be accepted into the prestigious university, Southern Methodist University. Furthermore, I have been the photographer, vice-president, and president of D.E.C.A., served on the board of directors of the International Business Academy, a highly sophisticated high school program for ambitious students, and be an active member of three honor societies. Not only do I give back by taking leadership positions, but I have taken on many community service opportunities such as working with students at McKamy and Farmers Branch elementary schools. Mainstreaming allows me to live life to the fullest where I have unlimited opportunities to learn and excel.

I strongly believe that I am a good candidate for this scholarship, because I understand that receiving an extraordinary scholarship like this one means that the organization feels confidence that the student receiving the scholarship will become a valuable member of society who strives to go “above and beyond.” I have lived life “above and beyond” people’s expectations since I was diagnosed as profoundly deaf and told that I would never be able to speak or hear. Not only have I managed to do more than a typical deaf student would accomplish, but I have achieved things that most of my peers would not. Receiving this scholarship will enable me to go a step further with an education from one of the most prestigious schools, Southern Methodist University. There I will attend the Cox School of Business and the University Honors Program. I have an ambition to double major in business administration and marketing communications with a possible minor in foreign language. After graduating with a double major, I plan to continue my education to attain a masters degree in business administration. I wish to pursue a career in the advertising industry with a pinpoint focus in the automotive world. I have a dream of starting my own advertising agency in the automotive industry. The Graeme Clark scholarship will take me one step closer in achieving my ambitions and dreams.



January 27, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Beautiful essay Michael, thanks for sharing. You sure have achieved heaps and sounds like it is just the beginning! All the best for the future

anna s

January 27, 2008 at 9:41 pm

Being deaf does not prevent one from succeeding! All my best for the young man.


January 27, 2008 at 10:11 pm

I’m not disparaging Michael’s success, but this is hardly a typical cochlear implant student. This is an unusual and rare sample of a successful cochlear implant student. I’ve met many more CI students who do worse than the “typical Deaf student” than I have met that are more successful. I’ve also met A LOT more Deaf, ASL-using students that are successful. To say that Micheal is a typical CI student is misleading.

Another mum

January 28, 2008 at 1:05 am

This is “a typical cochlear implant student”. There are thousands out there achieving the kinds of successes just like Michael is here! I have a teen son with an implant, I see successes like Michael’s in him and the host of other implanted children and teens I see. What exactly is the point of reference here? Where are you meeting implanted students and in what numbers that you can make the call as to whether this is typical or not? The fact that the words used were “rare sample of a successful cochlear implant student” suggests to me that you are not meeting the bulk of these implanted students operating and succeeding at this level every day in the mainstream. I wouldn’t make sweeping statements about what makes a typical Deaf ASL using student” and his/her successes because I do not know enough of them to make that call. Why is accepting that the position being shown here on this blog is indeed “typical” so hard? Why is it there is a continued need to push this notion of mistruths or false representations. How many successful stories is it going to take before there is atually acknowledgement that implanted students are going about their business in daily lives, as both successful students and students with full and satisfying social lifes and all that this entails?


January 28, 2008 at 2:19 am

Another mum–I’ve been teaching for 14 years and I’ve met at least 1 thousand students with CI and only maybe four or five of them could speak clearly enough to be understood. I’ve only met about four or five of them that was academically, socially, and linguistically on par. What frustrates me is that the CI industry and people like you who insist that there’s more success out there than we have seen. Where ARE the successful CI students–other than here on blogs? Where’s the research that shows the successes AND failures of CI students? Where’s the research that shows what happens to CI students after they’ve “failed” oralism/AVT? There is plenty of research out there showing that bilingualism succeeds–and the implementation of bilingual programs across the country (Star Schools, etc) has shown dramatic success rates.

There has been too much propaganda about CI’s and one consistent thing I’ve seen over the years is that it’s always the same few people portrayed to the world.

AND, in addition to this, alot of times it’s the PARENTS or the DOCTORS who are saying these kids are successful, but in real life, they’re not. The students themselves don’t think so, and the rest of the world doesn’t think so. One example, which happened just this past weekend, is when I went out with a group of friends. One happened to have a cochlear implant. She told us that she could speak/lipread quite well and that she was “normal.” Well, we’ve already noticed that she often needs extra help in school, that she doesn’t read as well as the rest of us, and that she really cannot speak that clearly at all. Last weekend, we went to a restaurant, and she attempted to order some food. She couldn’t. The waitress simply did not understand her, nor did the rest of us. The rest of us had pointed out our orders (even though three or four of us can communicate quite well verbally). We tried to get this CI girl to just point her order out, but she insisted on persisting–telling us in ASL that her parents told her she had great speech and that somethign must be wrong with the waitress. After about 10 minutes–seriously–we could see the waitress was getting frustrated and I took over–spoke out her order (much to her charaign) and the waitress left in a hurry. Even after this, this girl insisted that somethign was wrong with the waitress because her parents and her speech teacher told her she had great speech. Now, you may say that since I’m Deaf myself, I may not be qualified to judge her speech–so let me say this: there was an interpreter with us and she said, later, that she did not understand a word this girl said. THIS is what I see all the time–and I live in Utah, what is supposedly the CI capitol of the world.

January 28, 2008 at 9:02 am


I have to ask where you teach. If these kids with CIs have such unclear speech, then it must be a school that is self contained and does not have Cert. AVTs on staff or those who know how to effectively teach these kids to listen and speak. Having spent the past 20 years with A-V and oral kids, I can tell you that the vast majority of kids who do receive the proper training not only have very clear speech, but many have speech that is indistinguishable from their normal hearing peers. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjT9zOijyLQ for starters to hear about 10 of them. It is too bad that the kids you know have not been in the proper educational environment and so have fallen through the cracks. That is why we need to get more accurate information out there to parents. Putting a CI in a child’s head alone does not guarantee clear speech and excellent English language skills. Professionals who have the training and skill to work with these kids are essential.

anna s

January 28, 2008 at 11:31 am

Rachel and fellow CI’ers:

What I realllly want is for CI teens and young adults who grew up with Cis (not those who got CIs as adults or those who are postlingual deaf) to band up and blog and blog to show the Deaf skeptics that they are doing well.

What the Deaf radicals are doing is doing more harm than good to their community. They are the ones who make ASL supporters look BAD! I hear stories that some of them are banding up to do a series of protests at after school events at private oral programs. That’s bad news for our cherished deaf community.

Rachel, you are a godsend. Can you consider recruiting many deaf CI teens/young adults to jump in and share their stories? Get the average Joe CI kid. Michael is not an average Joe. He’s way successful even than most of the hearing kids. (:

What do you think? I would be more than happy to help in any way.

This is from a culturally Deaf mother of a CI kid who is doing very well.

January 28, 2008 at 11:35 am

Great video to watch and listen. All of them spoke clearly and did so without the nasally type speech (with the exception of 1..slightly so). Many of them were implant around at 2. And I agree. Age of implanation is crucial. Follow up speech training along with parental and school support is paramount. For those implanted later on as kids there is a long resident time for speech and listening skill to develop, especially with hearing aid users like me. But CI have access to harder to hear sounds such as “t,” “s” “ch” and sh” and that means they stand the chance for greater success.

Thanks for the video, Melissa.

January 28, 2008 at 12:07 pm

Here is another video:


This little boy had meningitis as an infant and was bilaterally implanted at age 10 months. He sounds terrific – but here’s what makes it even more so. He is German. English is his second language. He attends an English immersion school.

and here’s another one from Australia:


and more at AVC’s own website:

http://www.avchears.org/ – While some are the same kids from the YouTube video, in particular listen to Sydney, who is not.

And, finally, here is Rachel:



January 28, 2008 at 12:44 pm

I teach at a school for the Deaf, where we often get CI students in the fourth or fifth grade–sometimes earlier, sometimes later. Most of them come after having “failed” in the oral/AVT setting. In my experience, many of them THRIVE and BLOSSOM once they pick up ASL (which happens within weeks!) and then suddenly they start speaking better. I’ve been after parents of these kids to document this–to share the growth they see in their kids after they start using ASL.

I agree that the proper support is necessary, but that is not always successful. Too many kids with CIs are falling through the cracks. I don’t see why parents cant offer them ALL opportunities to succeed, including the use of ASL.

anna s

January 28, 2008 at 12:54 pm


I beg to differ! I am a Deaf educator like you. I do get CI kids who are visually oriented. They are THE MINORITY.

There are six CI kids at the school for the Deaf currently who are better off with sign language (ASL to be more specific). They did not do well orally. There are about 27 kids in this school district who are implanted and doing great in the mainstream. Some are with sign language interpreters and some use CART and some are without either.

There is one CI kid in our special day DHH class who needs signing.

So it is 26 out in the mainstream and 6 in a SIGNING CLASSROOM.

There are kids with CI who need to be in a fully signing environment. True, but they are the minority. They MUST not be seen as failures, but as visual learners.

Spencer, avoid the word MANY to definite how many CI kids end up at your school for the Deaf. There’s some of them, butthe majority are OUT there and doing just dandy.

anna s

January 28, 2008 at 12:55 pm


I wish the videos are subtitled for us d/deaf/hoh people. Some of us need to see to believe.

January 28, 2008 at 1:13 pm


I understand, and Rachel can provide either subtitles or at least a transcript to hers and the AVC one on YouTube that we put up, but the other two we don’t have access to.


January 28, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Spencer, as I’m sure you realize, very few deaf kids actually go to schools for the deaf anymore. Most of them are mainstreamed, and most have results just like Michael. Unfortunately, the kids who arrive with difficulties at deaf schools often have other things going on. They may have been implanted later, identified later, have multiple disabilities, have parents that do not understand appropriate intervention and therapy, and have not emphasized the importance of hearing at all times. I doubt that most of the “failures” which you have seen have all been identified under the age of 6 months, aided, and then implanted early (by age 2 or even earlier) with appropriate intervention.

My sons both have similar stories to Michael’s at their point in life. My 7 year old has been age appropriate since before turning 2 years of age, having been implanted at 9 months in 2001. We have been covering the Greeks in his history lessons (he is homeschooled like his hearing brothers were at this age but he attended ordinary preschool successfully). Here are some questions he answered while not even looking at me:

Who was the King of the Greek Gods?
What was Athena the goddess of?
What gift did Athena give the city which was named in her honor?
Did the Greeks worship one or many gods?
Did the people of Athens have a King or make decisions for themselves?
What does the word “democracy” mean?
What kind of people were the Spartans?
At what age did spartan boys have to leave their mothers and start learning to fight?
How did the Greeks win the war with Troy?
Who wrote the stories of the Trojan war?

My son is 7. His 20 month old brother, also bilaterally implanted, has a vocabulary which is now large enough that we probably can’t count the words easily anymore. People are routinely shocked if we tell them that the boys were born deaf. They have no trace of deaf accent.

I know lots of other parents who have had similar results. Fortunately, most of them are mainstreamed in settings where the teachers do not have the low expectations that older TODs have, and so they get the benefit of being treated just like their peers. Many have no accommodations, some have requests for captioning or FM systems because of the potential for noisy classrooms, but rarely do they have any need to be sequestered and be taught in a different language than their peers.

The old stories of cochlear implants need to be put out to pasture.


January 28, 2008 at 3:00 pm

I wince at the words “CI failure”.

Just because a deaf child with a CI who doesn’t keep up with his hearing peers and is considered a CI failure doesn’t mean he doesn’t hear or has no potential for learning, say in a bilingual program that includes ASL. The child really should be called a CI visual learner instead, as a commenter mentioned earlier.

Tagging a child with a negative label is bad enough.


January 28, 2008 at 4:00 pm

Ann, this is why I used quotations, because “failure” is not even a good definition. While I think it’s not any more likely for a deaf child to be a visual learner than a hearing one, there are kids for whom different methods may work best and who still enjoy their CIs. But I disagree that “many” kids are falling through the cracks. I think the kids who are not meeting the expectations of their parents, professionals or others are often having difficulties for very good, identifiable reasons. Not because CIs don’t work.

They are not failures, and the CIs are not failures. The failings fall in the course of action taken at birth and carrying on into their elementary years. It is clear what works best for a child who is clearly a CI candidate and who has normal intelligence and anatomy. It may be less clear for those who are not candidates or whose cochlea is malformed. But those kids are not the majority. Connexin 26 is one of the #1 causes of genetic deafness, and does not cause any other anatomical or detectable differences. It is what some have called “vanilla deafness.”

anna s

January 28, 2008 at 5:30 pm

My son’s deafness was acquired by the Connexin gene (26 or 33).

He is ten and was implanted at five. He needs to have an interpreter in class esp[ecially when the room is noisy and when theres a lot of dialogue going on. Is he a failure? Maybe to the eyes of the Deaf radicals, but to me, he is a success story. Reading two grades above grade level, gives speeches in spoken language in rontof his class in intelligible speech (some nasality, but SLP is working on it with him). He converses with his peers in spoke language mainly. Some of his peers know fingerspelling to make up for missed conversation. He is doing well and the only regret I have is not letting him get his CI at age 3.

He’s vanilla deaf… no additional issues. Ci works well for him definitely!

Amy is right… the CI kids who end up at deaf schools are visual learners, possibly due to several factors,which could be late implantation, parents not involved (not changing batteries, or reminding kid to wear CI at all times, missing mapping sessions), additional learning issues, etc.

At my kid’s previous oral schoool, the director said sign language may be beneficial for some oral CI kids after they leave for the mainstream where they would benefit from an interpreter as it is sometimes hard to hear and understand everything in a noisy classroom. Sign language whether its ASL or CASE could enrich the kid’s life, allowing him the ability to make friends with the deaf who use sign language primarily. I see sign language as a great tool but it is important to know that it ultimately boils down to parental preference as they know their child best.

January 28, 2008 at 6:33 pm

At a local ASL school where I live, a professional who works at the school told me a few years ago that she is frustrated because the kids only wear their CI processors at school and not at home and many actually leave their processors off all summer. I am not sure how much of the norm this is, but it certainly wouldn’t go a long way towards having a child learn to listen and use spoken language. This kind of occurrence, though, illustrates why we can’t take at face value statements that CIs don’t work without questioning who these kids are, what their parents’ priorities for them and involvement with their language development is, etc.


January 28, 2008 at 6:59 pm

“Vanilla deafness” is a new term to me, who is oral deaf. Learn something new everyday here on DR! Cause of my deafness is not genetic, so I’m not entirely familiar with genetic causes. Have heard of the Connexion gene 26 or 33, but had never until now heard this genetically caused deafness referred to as vanilla deafness.

“Success” is defined and measured in so many different ways, as Anna S. has pointed out. Which is why I don’t like the term CI failures applied to children anyway. I understand what you also mean, Amy, that not “many” CI kids are falling thru the cracks. Have to remember that the Deaf culture community is a very small population, and to them “CI failed” kids are one too many. In the CI community, these same statistics look small by comparision.

Rachel, Michael’s story is very interesting, his achievements are outstanding, and I wish him every success at SMU.


January 28, 2008 at 11:46 pm

Wow, didn’t expect that many comments after mine. If you will notice, all of my comments include quotes around the word “failure,” because I, too, don’t believe they are failures, but that is how they are often termed/labelled when they come to Deaf schools. I have had students with CI’s who were implanted as infants, some late implanted, and some with implants that no longer function–so believe me, I’ve seen a wide range of CI students. I have also taught remedial English at the college level for 8 years, and most of my students are CI/oral students.

I agree that parent involvement is very important. This doesn’t always happen, unfortunately.

Also, Ann C–over 1 thousand students with CIs IS many–especially over a span of 13 years or so. I speak from personal experience and frustration.

Another mum

January 29, 2008 at 2:50 am

Spencer you refer to students coming to Deaf schools in your last post. So in this instance are we talking about students that have had a change in educational placement due to their current placement not meeting their needs? Any child moving educational settings is not about the failure of the child but rather the failure of the previous educational setting to meet the needs of that child. If this is the case then whilst you have had exposure to large numbers of implantees, it would seem to be implantees who’s prior educational setting has not maximised their potential. So following the logic, you would need to see the same number of implantee students in the educational settings that have maximised their potential (in this case mainstream schools) in order to make a value statement about what is typical and what is not. It seems to me that whilst you have seen large numbers of students with implants, perhaps the context in which you have seen them is such that is not a true representation of what is actually happening with implanted students overall.

On the note of where are these kids? I can answer that for you. My son has written something for Mishka Zen to go on that site when she has the time to put it up. As for all these kids, they are living their lives, doing their thing, being like all their friends and school mates. For my son at least, he has no interest in spinning his wheels in an environment where his success may be questioned as not being typical, or that there be some implication that either he, or his mother, is part of some propaganda machine setting out to promote mistruths about cochlear implants and the successful outcomes of these kids. In fact when I asked him to write something for the blog because there were people who believed that success stories like Rachel and Michael were the “rare cases” and not truly representative, he went ahead and wrote it….he then followed it up with the following comments “that is my story, that is how my life is, if they choose not to believe that this what it is like for me and other implantees then that is their problem and they can just shove it”…perhaps not the most politically correct way of expressing himself, but I didn’t want to edit what he said but I did want to answer your question about where all these kids are.


February 3, 2008 at 11:11 pm

Anothermum– Take your last comment and switch ASL user every time you used CI student/user and then you will see the exact same thing we are saying. I did an informal survey at a party that I attended last weekend. There were over 100 people in attendance and I must have spoken to at least 75 of them. None of them could recall meeting a successful CI student. I’m NOT saying this to say that there are none, but to point out that most of us have seen CI students/individuals/adults with problems: academic, hearing, communication, social, athletic, and much much more. This concerns us in the Deaf community. We don’t give a flying fig if there are CI students, but we KNOW (both from experience and research) that these same students could have it so much easier and be so much more successful in ALL aspects of life (including socializing with hearing people) if they learned/used ASL at the same time. This is the goal fo DBC….not to say that CI’s are bad and shold be prohibited.


March 2, 2008 at 9:29 pm

Hi – my name is Tom. I am 15 years old and have bilateral cochlear implants. I wore hearing aids until I was 13 years old, then I had a big hearing loss and I decided to get a cochlear implant. I liked it so much that I had my left side implanted a year later.

It’s been great and the best decision I could have possibly made for myself. I go a mainstream school where I’m on the honor roll. I have earned my second degree black belt in taekwondo and I’ve been playing the bass guitar for a little over a year. I listen to music all the time – it’s a big part of my life. I love to act and I was the only freshman who got a role in my school’s winter play, Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors”. Last year, I had the lead role in the middle school play. I’m the only deaf kid in my class and usually am one of only two or three other deaf kids in the school, including my younger brother who also has bilateral CIs. My brother is doing equally as well – he’s into sports (especially baseball – he was on a team that went to the state Little League allstar tournament) and also has a second degree black belt in taekwondo.

I have a great group of friends, all who are hearing, all who think of me as their friend, Tom, not their deaf friend, Tom.

I don’t believe that I would have been able to do all that I do were it not for my CIs. They really have given me a lot.


March 16, 2008 at 5:47 am

Thanks for your very encouraging web site. I have printed your stories and given them to our close friends and family to try and help them to understand me! It has also been a great help and inspiration to read your expierences and to know that you will already understand my frustration tosome extent.

I am happily married to a wonderful lady for the past 20 years and have three lovely kids. We enjoy life and also my work as general manager of a small Auckland company with a team of 12.

I live in Rotorua and enjoy hunting the huge trophy trout that can be caught at night in this area. I like to listen to the ripples of the water when they are interupted by a trout stalking smelt. I like to hear the sounds of the Morepork (Owl) calling and the honk of the swans, the wind in the trees and the rustle of leaves, and hopefully the scream of my reel as I hook a big one! I like to hear my brother, my dad, my son or daughter or good fishing mate mate whisper the location of a nearby trout rise to target……

BUT I can’t hear any longer.

Last May I went into hospital for a small opp on my knee and went home 8 weeks later. I contacted a Streptococcol blood infection. This progressed to endocarditis which is a small cluster of infection on my hear valves. I was given aminoglycoside antibiotics and now 10 months later am profoundly deaf in both ears.

I still have the support of a lovely family and also my excellent Australian employer but haven’t been able to work since December.

I have had three sets of hearing aids since December and my current ones are the latest Super Power Sparx from GN ReSound meant to be good for 140 dB.

I can’t understand my kids even with my aids but are lucky to be able to still communicate with my wife mostly via lip reading which I am trying to learn quickly!

My ENT Specialist prescribed a course of high dose prednisone in case of inner ear inflammation but this was unsuccessful. I have had a CT scan and been referred to the cochlear team in Auckland on Wednesday 26th for bi-lateral cochlear suitability.

As my hearing loss is as a result of a treatment injury ACC have indicated they will most likely cover cost following advice from the CI team. My ACC case manager and Rotorua branch manager have been excellent to deal with. They have shown professionalism of the highest calibre and I can’t speak highly enough of them.

I put in my hearing aids, hopeful that I may hear a Tui in our garden or even a Song Thrush, Black bird or the Shineing Cookoo I picked up and put safely in a tree after it wounded itself by flying into our window. Instead all the birds have gon quiet and our Bichon puppies make an alien squeek and my children sound fuzzy and Retro and I struggle to understand the at all. They are young and energetic and lack the patience to speak slowly so their dad can read their lips.

Every day my last remaining sounds with my hearing aids become less and less and my world becomes so much smaller. Sometimes I have little private cry but it is just a wet tear as there is no noise. I long to be able to lie in bed and hear the crickets out my window. I want to hear my wife whisper and share the day. Love that is communicated by a look or by a touch or by a thought or prayer becomes so much more precious and something I can hear from within that can’t be taken away.

I read the blogs of other people who have been helped by this wonderful technology. I am pained when I read of yet another medical professional leaving our shores because this great country of ours can’t (or won’t) pay them enough for their skills.

I am very hopeful of a favorable outcome on Wednesday 26th!

April 27, 2009 at 11:49 pm

[...] of course, is a past Graeme Clark Scholarship winner, as is Michael N., who was profiled in an earlier “CI User Story” here at Cochlear Implant Online. [...]

February 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm

[...] Noble, a young adult with a cochlear implant, shared his story about his journey to hearing with cochlear implants a few years ago with Cochlear ….  Michael and I finally had a chance to meet each other last summer when we both did a summer [...]