Imagine the sounds of the Christmas season: the ripping of wrapping paper, the squeal of an excited child, jingle bells, the whispers to Santa, and your favorite Christmas carol.
Now imagine the holidays without those sounds. That’s how it was for Riley until she turned 2. With the help of cochlear implants and years of auditory-verbal therapy, she is able to enjoy all the sounds of the season just like any kid with typical hearing, including me yelling, “Riley! Stop shaking your presents!”
One of Riley’s favorite Christmas sounds is a DVD by The Wiggles. The kiddie band was one of the first things she heard after her implants were activated. “Mama, I don’t care how old I get, ” she says, “I’ll always love The Wiggles.” The photo at right shows her gettin’ wiggly during her first holiday to hear. Pretty special, right?
Since then she has sung in numerous school Christmas programs and played three roles in her third-grade-class production of “A Christmas Carol.” Not bad for a girl who, when she was born, couldn’t hear a jet engine if you held her next to it.
When all the noise starts getting to you, stop and think what it’d be like if you couldn’t hear at all. No kids singing “Away in a Manger,” no friends laughing, no voice saying “I love you.” Then be grateful for the sounds. And take some ibuprofen and a nap and get on with your holiday-ing.
So I got this email the other day from Jennifer with the Hear the World initiative about a photography contest, sponsored by Phonak, called “Show Us Your Hearing.” The project wants to see you in a “conscious pose of hearing” (hand cupped behind your ear) and aims to raise awareness of hearing loss, which affects 16 percent of the world.
Each year in the United States alone, 12,000 babies are born with hearing loss, and the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery reports that 1.3 million children under age 3 have a hearing impairment.
Clearly, hearing loss affects every aspect of a child’s life, from academics to developmental to social issues. Most of you know our story: Our daughter, Riley, was diagnosed with profound deafness when she was around 18 months old. We were devastated, but with education and information we made the right decision for our family. Just before she turned 2, she had cochlear implant surgery and now at age 8, she is a bilateral CI user headed to the third grade, an all-star softball player and an incredible dancer.
Some big names in music are part of this initiative including Annie Lennox, Rod Stewart, Common, Billy Idol, Harry Belafonte, Joss Stone, Lenny Kravitz. Singer-songwriter and photographer Bryan Adams captured each ambassador in the “hearing pose,” which “demonstrates the importance of being aware of your hearing at every age.”
Now the initiative wants you to submit your own photo! Details are below.
Show Us Your Hearing
WHEN IS THE CONTEST DEADLINE? Monday, July 12th HOW DO I ENTER? To enter, follow these 5 easy steps:
1. Register: You will receive an email registration confirmation from Hear the World. If you don’t receive an email, please check your Junk Mail folder.
2. Visit: Click the “enter the contest” button, and enter the entry form.
3. Upload a photograph of you, a friend, or family member in the “Conscious Pose of Hearing.” The photo must be high res (300dpi), between 1MB – 3MB.
4. Give your photograph a title and provide a description of up to 100 words describing the importance of being aware of your hearing at every age.
5. Click “Send.” Your Entry will not be officially entered into the Competition unless you click the final Send button and receive a confirmation screen that states that your Entry was accepted.
WHY SHOULD I ENTER?
To take a moment to think about your sense of hearing and the sounds you are grateful to hear every day.
To support the Hear the World initiative, which is dedicated to raising awareness about the importance of hearing, while also educating the public about the consequences of hearing loss and the available solutions.
For a chance to win a Polaroid 300 Instant Camera and for a chance to see your photograph published in the award-winning Hear the World magazine.
WHAT ARE THE JUDGES LOOKING FOR?
Most visually appealing–50%
100 word description–10%
HOW AND WHEN WILL THE GRAND PRIZE WINNER BE DETERMINED?
1. The public will vote on their favorite photo between July 13 – August 3.
2. The top five entries that receive the most votes will be judged by a panel of judges between August 4 – August 10.
3. The grand prize winner will be announced on August 16 on the Hear the World website. Winners will be notified by phone and email.
Disclosure: Riley wore Phonak hearing aids before she received her cochlear implants, but that was in 2003, way before this contest was even a twinkle in the marketing department’s eyes. Heck, before I replied to the email, they didn’t even know I had a child with hearing loss.
Joey McIntyre of New Kids on the Block and Dancing with the Stars fame shares his family’s story of hearing loss in the latest issue of People magazine. His youngest son, 3-month-old Rhys, has been diagnosed with a severe loss and is wearing hearing aids. According to the article, the family is working with an auditory-verbal therapist and might consider cochlear implants.
Many of the comments on the article are insulting, rude, and just plain ignorant. While I have no problem with a family wanting to immerse their hearing-impaired child in Deaf culture, I do have a problem with those same people spreading lies and accusing other families of abuse because they made a different choice.
I’m going to address 20 things posted in the article’s comments and clear up a few misconceptions about cochlear implants. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section or share this post with others.
1. Cochlear implants DO NOT require additional surgeries as a child grows. The only reason additional surgery would be needed is if the device failed. CIs have a 1% failure rate.
2. Cochlear implants ARE NOT implanted into the brain. It IS NOT brain surgery.
3. If parents want their child to use spoken language, they CANNOT WAIT until the child is old enough to “make the decision for himself.” Most language learning occurs before the age of 3, so waiting would put the child at a terrible disadvantage.
4. Sign language is great, if a family wants to learn it. My family, for instance, is HUGE. I didn’t expect all 100 of them to learn ASL. Even if they wanted to, it would be nearly impossible, and Riley would’ve had no way to communicate with cousins, great aunts, and I didn’t want that.
5. My daughter knows a few signs, for those times when she doesn’t wear her CI processors, but she doesn’t “rely on” ASL and doesn’t need to.
6. Speech is available at birth. How do you think typically hearing children learn language? It seems that Rhys is benefiting from his hearing aids, so using spoken language is appropriate.
7. The implant is NOT DRILLED into the skull, like a screw is drilled into a piece of wood. A pocket for the implant is carved into the skull and a small hole is drilled into the mastoid bone so that the electrode array can be inserted into the cochlea. Read more on cochlear implant surgery at Tampa Bay Hearing and Balance Center.
8. Cochlear implants don’t “fix” hearing and don’t claim to. They offer users access to sound. Just like you have to learn to speak, you also have to learn to hear.
9. AG Bell is a proponent of listening and spoken language, but that doesn’t mean the organization is against sign language. It’s not either/or.
10. Auditory-Verbal Therapy focuses on teaching a child to use her hearing and learn to speak. It DOES NOT “forbid” all gestures; in fact, a hand cue is used during therapy. It signals the child to listen.
11. If deafness is not a disability, why do so many Deaf people use hearing aids? What are you trying to “fix”?
12. Riley’s CIs don’t hurt when she puts them on.
13. Riley is a special-needs child. Any child who has an IEP or who has special accommodations at school is a special-needs child. It is not a bad thing.
14. Riley’s CIs help her hear, but she is and will always be deaf.
15 A deaf child DOES NOT belong to the Deaf culture. She belongs to her parents.
16. Riley’s hearing aids and cochlear implants and speech therapy ARE COVERED by insurance.
17. You CAN have X-rays if you have CIs. Riley has had them done at the dentist.
18. You CAN swim if you have CIs (you just take off the processors.) No, you can’t do deepwater diving, but how many people do you know who are deepwater divers?
December has been a tough month: Daddy is back in the hospital with a serious infection, and he is scheduled for major surgeries Wednesday. My grandmother fell for the third time since summer and is now in a nursing home. And last week, we had to let Carlo, our 11-year-old lab mix, go to a better place. Ryan and Riley had taken him to an emergency vet a week earlier because he was eating very little. They came back with a diagnosis of fungal pneumonia and prescriptions for pain and antibiotics.
The meds did nothing, so our regular vet came to the house to check on him. Carlo was laboring to breathe, could hardly walk and completely stopped eating and drinking. Our vet listened to him breathe and checked him out and said it was either fungal pneumonia or lung cancer. We had already discussed a plan and once we had confirmation that we could do nothing more, we made the decision. And it was hard. Riley gave Carlo a hug, and we sent her to our neighbor’s. Ryan and I stayed with him until the end, crying and talking to him.
Carlo was the sweetest, goofiest dog. When it came to eating, he was like a vacuum. He loved to run around in the backyard, and he loved our first dog and his mentor, Eboni, whom we lost several years ago when Riley was very little. And he loved us.
I miss him snuffling against the back door when he wanted in. I miss his barks when we pulled into the driveway. I miss him looking at me with those big eyes when he wanted to go outside.
That night, Riley asked when the angels were coming to get Carlo and if we were going to put his body under his tree. She asked if he was going to play with Eb and Bonnie (Nanny’s late dog). She asked if he was going swimming. We said yes to all. We tried to explain about his spirit, but that was fruitless. We didn’t have the words to get it right. She drew a card for Carlo and Eb and took it to school and all her classmates signed it. Isn’t that the sweetest thing you’ve ever heard?
The photos below show a 20-month-old Riley checking out Eboni (red collar) and Carlo; Ryan helping Riley get to know Carlo a little better; Carlo hanging out on the patio; and Carlo “opening” his Christmas present last year. In the drawings, Riley encourages Carlo to go see Eboni in heaven and marks Carlo’s final resting spot – under his favorite tree in our backyard.
Six years ago today we saw our lives change with the help of amazing technology, amazing doctors and nurses, amazing audiologists, amazing therapists and amazing family and friends. See for yourself:
Right now she’s using her bionic hearing accessories to listen to Spongebob, dance to “Get Up Offa That Thang,” sing to “All In This Together” from “High School Musical” and read “Junie B. Jones is Not a Crook.” Life is sweet!
When children are diagnosed with hearing loss, parents feel grief, anger, anxiety and guilt.
Audiologists can help them through these emotions by remembering this: You’re about to tell a family the child they think they know does not exist.
At least, that’s how my husband and I felt when our 18-month-old daughter was diagnosed. All the dreams and hopes and plans were put on hold when we heard:
“She’s never heard your voice. She doesn’t even know her own name.”
Thankfully, our audiologist was kind and straightforward in her diagnosis, and once we were over the initial shock, she outlined the various treatment options available.
Now that our daughter is 7, hearing with bilateral cochlear implants, and excelling in second grade, those hopes and dreams have returned. We just have to do a little extra planning and coaching. This can be true for all families, regardless of the treatment they choose.
Follow these tips to help make the diagnosis easier for parents to digest:
* Show sensitivity when delivering the news; don’t just blurt it out.
* Explain in layman’s terms the type and severity of loss and what it means.
* Give parents a chance to recover from the shock before telling them about treatment options.
* Offer information on support groups for parents of children with hearing loss.
* Offer a complete list of options when it’s time to discuss treatment. From ASL to hearing aids to cochlear implants to Total Communication, any and all options available and appropriate for the type of hearing loss should be discussed.
* Put families in contact with someone who can help them navigate insurance, approval and Early Intervention issues.
* Offer contact information on other families who have been through the same situation.
This is an emotional time for families, so anything you can do to make the journey forward a little easier will be appreciated.
Saturday we went to a local water park with some friends, and Riley impressed me (OK, and scared me a little) with her courage. She jumped off the high dive. My knees were quivering, but I didn’t want my anxiety to make her afraid, so I kept it to myself. (Her friend had already done it (and even off the first platform, and Riley decided she wanted to try.)
She climbed up the first time, got about halfway down the board, then turned around and backed down the ladder. The second time, she jumped into water – all 15 feet of it. And the third climb was also a success. She tried a fourth time but decided the board was too “wiggly” and came back down.
I was so proud of her for trying and then overcoming her fear. But, boy, my stomach was in a knot. 🙂
Last night, I had an argument with myself. It went like this:
“What were you thinking, letting her do that?!”
“She is fine! Nothing happened, and she can swim now! Isn’t that great?”
“Yeah, but what if she’d slipped? What if she’d fallen?”
“She didn’t. She had fun, and she’s not a scaredy-cat like me. Stop.”
Finally, I just said a prayer, thanking God for keeping her safe and for her courage. And I was able to sleep. 🙂
Riley’s dance showcase as part of the Heidi Knight School of Dance was last night. She did fantastic, and the production is first-class professional. It was incredible the number and talent of the dancers. We were all so proud of her!
Riley and her six Little Mermaid classmates pranced onto the stage in front of about 2,000 at the VBC and did their routine to “Kiss the Girl” like it was no big deal. She knew the dance better than her teacher, who told me as much after the show. She didn’t miss a beat or a step … not bad for a deaf girl! Those cochlear implants really work.
Here are a few pics from the dress rehearsal (complete with curlers) and after the show.
Nothing is sweeter than hearing my bilateral CI daughter singing The Chipmunk Song and Jingle Bell Rock. Especially considering there was a time when we weren’t sure she’d even talk.
Yeah, she misses and messes up a few words, but when I was 7, I didn’t get “snowing and blowing up bushels of fun” either. She also loves to belt out We Wish You a Merry Christmas and Jingle Bells. We’re still working on Silent Night and Away in a Manger.
And, thanks to A Charlie Brown Christmas, she knows Hark! The Herald Angel Sings. And she sings it exactly as kids do in the cartoon: face upturned toward the heavens and mouth wide open!
This was her first Christmas to hear! She was 2 and loved everything, except Santa.