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Meet Emily

Emily is almost 4 years old. She was born with profound deafness in both ears. Her parents found out she was deaf when she was 1 year old. When she was 2, she got a cochlear implant.

Both of Emily's parents have normal hearing. She also has a younger sister with normal hearing. Her family uses both sign language and speech to communicate with her. When she was 3, she started going to a “Language Acquisition Preschool” for children with speech delays.

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Read what her parents have to say about:
Finding out she was deaf
The importance of faith
Choosing total communication
Choosing a cochlear implant
What happened after she got the implant
Working on hearing and speaking
Playing with other children
Going to school

Finding out she was deaf

Emily's parents, Gregory and Beth, first thought she might have a hearing loss when she was 9 months old. She did not respond to her name or to other sounds. When she was about 1 year old, an audiologist tested her and said she had no hearing in one ear and some hearing in the other ear. Three months later, Gregory and Beth took Emily to another audiologist who had experience working with children. The audiologist tested her again and found out she had little or no hearing in both ears.

We didn’t get all the information (from the first audiologist). I mean she’s a wonderful person and I know she felt awful for us. She wanted so badly for Emily to have some hearing in there, so that it wouldn’t be that, you know, a totally deaf child, you know. And I just think she wanted that so badly for us, that it ended up kind of hurting us in the end because we had to find out.

—   Emily's Mother

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The importance of faith

I don’t think we still know why, but [the deafness] has been a blessing in so many ways. We’ve had many blessings because of it, and we’ve met people that we would have never met and we’ve been able to encourage people that we could have never encouraged.
Emily's Mother

Like many parents, Gregory and Beth were devastated when they first learned their baby could not hear. Faith in God helped them get through the early days. It has continued to help them deal with the hard decisions they have had to make.

We struggled as a couple, you know, just dealing with the fact that hey, our child’s deaf. God, why did you do this to us? Why did you do this to our child?

Faith in God [helped us get through that stage]. The church has what they call a Care Group, and there's several couples, families. You can pick which kind of, there’s some older ones, there is young newlyweds, don’t have kids, there’s some like teenagers. So we found one that we were very comfortable with and they were a tremendous support group for us.

We got to realize that God is sovereign and God can do whatever he wants and whenever he wants and we deserve no explanation, and in his sovereignty, in choosing to do what he would like to do. We also, I also believe the Bible says that he doesn’t give something that we can’t handle, but we need Him to be able to handle it.

So that’s how, that is how we got through. Their support was important. Frankly, I came down like, I broke down. We had one meeting and everyone was sharing what has God done the last couple of weeks in your life or what are you thankful for that God has done for you. And you can say something or not say something and I went off. I was very bitter and I was very angry at that point and not accepting it, and I said I’m not thankful for anything and I just you know, I really expressed what I was feeling. It changed the whole study for the evening because we became the focus, but they were people that were there to support us. The cards came pouring in. The phone calls came, but you know, you can add or you can take anything away that you want there, but for us, for me that.....I don’t know how someone would learn to deal with it without God, frankly, you know.

—   Emily's Father

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Choosing total communication

...To go totally oral? How would we – until she has that ability – how do we communicate with her? How does she tell us that she wants something to drink? You know, how does she tell us that she’s hungry?
Emily's Father

When the first tests showed that Emily had no hearing in one ear and some hearing in the other ear, her parents weren't sure about using sign language with her. They wanted to teach her to use the hearing she had in one ear. And, they were afraid sign language would confuse her. Emily was almost a year old at the time.

When she was 15 months old, Emily’s hearing was tested again using ABR and bone conduction. This time there was no hearing in either ear. These results convinced Gregory and Beth to learn sign language. But they also wanted her to learn to speak if possible.

We just wanted her to be able to communicate with everybody. You know, if she does find herself in a room full of people you know where nobody can sign to her, then we want her to be able to read lips or to be able to at least try to speak to them…We just thought if we just do all sign then she has a very limited amount of people that she can speak to.

—   Emily's Mother

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Choosing a cochlear implant
Emily’s parents weren't happy with her speech progress. They were mainly communicating through sign. They started thinking about a cochlear implant. Gregory and Beth had a hard time deciding whether or not to put Emily through surgery. Finally they decided to go ahead with it. They thought it could help her for the rest of her life.

We were wondering as far as, you know, do you want to put her through surgery and then the unknowns. How good will it work for her? I think we just came to if it, if we could give her a shot at hearing, we have to do it no matter what it costs. Money didn’t matter, what we were going to have to go through afterwards didn’t matter, but if we could improve her life in any way, it was important that we would take whatever steps they were to do that.

—   Emily's Father

Emily received a cochlear implant at the age of 24 months.

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What happened after she got the implant
When the implant was first turned on, Gregory and Beth were disappointed that there wasn’t a response right away. The first couple of weeks were rough. Emily would cry when the implant was turned on. But after 3 weeks it was clear that she was hearing something.

It was three weeks into it... I was in the car on the way home and I called her name and she went, ‘I heard that.’ I was so excited I got home and said, ‘Greg, she told me she heard me!’

—   Emily's Mother

She’s still deaf. You know, that won’t change. Whoever she’d come in contact with and then what if ever something happened to the implant or a dysfunction, you know, then she’s not totally lost.
Emily's Father

Three months after Emily got the implant, her parents were still using sign language with her. The main reason was so that she would be able to communicate with as many people as possible, both deaf and hearing. Her father also said that she would need to be able to communicate with people if the implant ever failed.

We always notice, like when we’re out to eat or in the mall where there is a lot of background noise, she can’t hear well enough to understand us, so we use sign when we’re out a lot or out to eat in a restaurant or something.

—   Emily's Mother

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Working on hearing and speaking
Eight months after getting the implant, Emily could hear down to 15 db. She seemed to understand everything that was said to her. And, she was talking a lot more than before. Several months later, she could hear down to a whisper. Beth noted that other people had trouble understanding Emily’s speech because she didn't say consonants clearly.

Although Emily’s speech was coming along better than expected, her parents and speech therapist continued to introduce new words and concepts with sign. Her parents still hoped to improve their sign language skills. But they said they had learned as much as they had wanted to. They felt it was more important for Emily to catch up on her speech skills. She had missed out on two years of hearing and learning to speak before she got the implant. They say how well their younger daughter, Amy, talked. This made them see that Emily had missed out on a lot of speech development during her first two years of life.

She missed the two most critical years. I never really believed that until I had Amy and you see in a year and half already what she knows and what she understands. She’s talking quite a bit already and the amount that she understands of what she hears is amazing to me. Like she understands when we’re asking her a question. That’s the one thing that Emily still struggles with, answering and asking questions. It’s just one of those things. I guess it just came naturally to Amy and it’s not just something that comes naturally [to Emily].

—   Emily's Mother

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Playing with other children

Beth said Emily is a follower rather than a leader when it she plays with other children. About a year after getting the cochlear implant, Beth noticed that Emily was a lot more comfortable speaking with hearing children than she had been in the past.

I’ve just noticed that she’s getting to be more outgoing with the other kids and is speaking either with her voice or signing with them, and even if they don’t understand her...sometimes just emotions that she uses with the signs is enough for them to understand.

—   Emily's Mother

Beth spoke of one instance when Emily’s hearing peers were mean to her because of her deafness.

We did have one circumstance…a month or two ago, when she was playing with some kids. I was there and I just happened to hear that the one shut the door in her face. They said, ‘Don’t let her in, she doesn’t talk to us’ or ‘She doesn’t talk, don’t let her play with us.’ You know, it kind of broke my heart to see that. I know Emily was standing in the hallway like, why did you just shut the door in my face?

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Going to school
At age 3, Emily began attending a “language acquisition preschool” two mornings a week. The class works hard on teaching language skills. The school officials working with Emily and her parents did not tell them about or recommend this class. They thought that Emily go to regular preschool or a hearing impaired preschool. But Gregory and Beth decided they did not want to put Emily in the hearing impaired classroom. They thought she would not have good speech models there. Her parents would like her to continue with the language acquisition program and also enroll in a regular preschool next year. They hope that in a regular setting, Emily will be exposed to better speech models.

At the time of the last interview, Gregory and Beth said that they hoped Emily could be mainstreamed by kindergarten. They also hope her speech will continue to improve and that she will one day be able to communicate in both speech and sign.

I’m very dedicated to her signs. Sign is going to be a part of her life. You know, the goal right now is to get her caught up a bit [in speech], and at that point we’re going to work real hard on the sign, because she’s deaf. If something were to ever go wrong, she needs to know how to communicate...If the decision was not to get a cochlear implant, I think that sign would have been the primary goal...but with the cochlear implant, speech has to be the first priority. I can’t see it any other way.

—   Emily's Father

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