Jessica is a bilateral cochlear implant user who was raised with the Auditory-Verbal approach like me and hears and speaks well. She received her first implant at the age of two years, and then received her second implant about four years ago. She has two siblings who were also born profoundly deaf, and they hear and speak well with their cochlear implants too! Jessica is another example of a cochlear implant success story!
I am a deaf teen who is very grateful for cochlear implant technology and the blessing it is in my life. I was born deaf to 2 hearing parents and there is no history of deafness in our family. My parents were told I would never speak and would not be able to read much beyond a 4-5th grade level. They were told this by the “experts” otherwise known as the doctor. But my mom didn’t want me to go for the rest of my life not able to hear music, my friends’ chattering, and all those other sounds of this world. She spent a lot of time in research for a way for me to communicate, or better yet, hear too. This was before the Internet offered much information at all, so she had to really work at this!
My parents explored every option available to educate me and teach me to function as much as possible in the world. One of the best books she found and read right after my diagnosis was Choices In Deafness by Dr. Sue Schwartz. Mom & Dad wanted me to achieve my potential and be able to open the doors of opportunity for myself, so they chose the Auditory-Verbal Option. They chose this option because at the time of diagnosis, they were told I had a moderate-severe hearing loss that would respond well to hearing aid technology. Hearing is the foundation of Auditory Verbal Therapy, and with good access to sound, this was a reasonable option.
After months of AV Therapy with a qualified therapist, me wearing my hearing aids all the time, and Mom working with me daily, I was not making much progress. My parents, therapist, and pediatrician were puzzled because I seemed bright and was ahead developmentally in all areas except communication. They had additional hearing tests completed but the result was the same. My mom was very frustrated and full of doubt that the tests weren’t accurate, so she made appointments at the Helen Beebe Speech & Hearing Center in Pennsylvania. We traveled a long way from our home for a week of immersion and testing at this center. It was there that my parents learned my hearing loss was not moderate- severe, BUT profound, and given my therapy history, it was suspected that the original diagnosis and follow up tests had been incorrect from the beginning.
My parents were already aware of cochlear implant technology and began researching this option more. I was fitted with new hearing aids that were stronger than the original, and continued therapy. Another therapist was added, and Mom & I began making trips to a cochlear implant and pediatric therapy center that was 4 hours round trip from our home. Dad was supportive of the whole thing but couldn’t always join us for our long drives because someone has to work and make a living for our family! I have made more than 300 trips to the city with the Cochlear Implant center. It was at this center that I began working with an AV therapist who changed my life and the life of my family. The result of the first 6 months of therapy was that I was declared to be a good candidate for a cochlear implant. I received my first implant at age 2 _.
Therapy at the center continued with Mom and I once a week. In addition, I had cochlear implant programming appointments, visits to a preschool tutor for deaf & hard of hearing students, and a speech therapist who worked to correct my articulation. Mom did daily assignments to follow through with the lessons our therapists gave her. She was creative and helped me stay focused (of course, I was like a toddler at the time, lol). She will tell you that she thinks it would have been just as much work to learn to sign and to teach me what for her would have been a foreign language because my mom didn’t know any sign language at the time (except finger spelling).
The results of all the work speak for themselves (literally). Today I am an all-A Honor Roll student at a private college preparatory middle school. I am in advanced math classes (I love math, lol) and was selected for the Duke University Talent Identification Program based on my language and verbal scores (this is based on SAT measures). I was honored to be inducted into National Junior Honor Society last year. Throughout my academic career, I have made only one “B”. In my elementary school years, I participated in dance, art, gymnastics, and theatre lessons. I love sports and played volleyball, basketball, and soccer. I chose to focus on art and soccer. I have received numerous awards for my artwork at the local, state, and regional level. I play soccer competitively and travel with my team for club. I have been a starter for the last 4 years with club soccer teams that have advanced to at least the semi-finals of our state championship tournament. This year I was selected for my varsity soccer team as an 8th grader. I participate in lots of activities with my church.
I am just one of lots of successful kids our family has been honored to know through the years who are very successful cochlear implant users. Mom told me what I write might be posted to a discussion where the choices my family made are in opposition to the views of some. I want everyone to know that our family thinks sign language is a beautiful language. So if you want to learn sign-language, feel free! It’s absolutely amazing! In 3rd grade, I read Helen Keller’s biography and was so interested in it that Mom registered us for a sign language class at our church (my church offers interpreted worship services and one of the interpreters teaches occasional classes). After she and our therapists felt our auditory development was well established (this is important for young deaf children whose goal is to listen & speak), she began teaching us some sign language. My brother is not interested (lol). It is wonderful to learn but it made me realize that if I had never gotten a cochlear implant, I would never heard the sounds “I love you”, music (my favorite thing to listen to), etc. I am so thankful that I can hear with cochlear implants.
How a person chooses to learn to listen, speak, and communicate is their choice. In my circumstance, the choice was made for me because my parents love me and wanted the best for me. They understood that there was a very early window of opportunity for me to learn to listen and speak. They wanted me to open the doors of opportunity for myself, and knew that if I could only sign and couldn’t speak, the doors would be limited. I have real opportunities to make choices for myself. I am not dependent on another person to communicate for me. I even don’t have an interpreter to sign or speak for me in classes and school, because I have the ability to speak.
Just as there are many choices in society at large, so are there choices in deafness. The essential thing is for us to respect the choices one another has made and work together for the greater good of all people with hearing loss.