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Cochlear implants and Auslan—why being bilingual works for Lucy’s family

Phillip and Lucy are both deaf and have bilateral cochlear implants. They have extended the gift of sound to their children while keeping their strong connection to the Deaf community through Auslan.
A family, made up of Mum, Dad, a young boy and baby, sitting as a group.

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  • Hearing

Parents, Phillip and Lucy, are both deaf and have bilateral cochlear implants. They have experienced the positive impact of cochlear implants, but also enjoyed the connection and acceptance that comes with being a member of the Deaf community.

So, when their children, Arthur and Leo, were born deaf and with unilateral hearing loss, Lucy and Phillip knew they wanted to give them access to sound through cochlear implants—while still teaching them Australian sign language (Auslan)—so they could access both the hearing and non-hearing worlds.

Having had her cochlear implant surgery for her second ear performed by Clinical Professor Catherine Birman, Lucy could not think of anyone she trusted more to perform Leo and Arthur’s procedures.

Cochlear implants—a family affair

Lucy was born in the United Kingdom and received her first cochlear implant when she was 16, while Phillip had his first implant in his early 20s. At the time, funding was only provided to individuals for one cochlear implant. So, it was not until Lucy moved to Australia in 2011 that she had her second cochlear implant surgery performed through NextSense using her private health insurance.

‘I loved it so much that I got my second implant done about a year after I arrived in Australia. I wanted to hear more.’

Clinical Professor Catherine Birman, who has performed more than 1700 cochlear implant procedures for children and adults, conducted Lucy’s surgery.

'Cochlear implant surgery can help people of all ages to hear more clearly. A second side cochlear implant can often help people hear better, particularly in background noise, like a busy household with kids and in the workplace. We would all like to be bilingual and for some, sign language will be their first language, and their second language can be spoken language through the cochlear implant,’ says Clinical Professor Catherine Birman.

Lucy says that her cochlear implants have helped her overcome barriers in her life and participate in society on her own terms.

‘They are amazing, if it wasn’t for the implant, I wouldn’t be doing nursing. It opens up a lot of opportunities for you in your life, and that is why I wanted it for them [my children] too,’ she says.

Extending the gift of sound to Arthur and Leo

When Leo, who is now three years old, was diagnosed with unilateral hearing loss and Arthur, who is now one year old, was diagnosed as deaf as a baby, Lucy and Phillip knew they wanted to give them access to the world of sound.

After being officially diagnosed with unilateral hearing loss by his audiologist, Leo was referred to NextSense, where the family met with Catherine Birman, who would perform cochlear implant surgery on his right ear.

In 2021, Arthur was born deaf. After extensive consultation and testing it was decided that bilateral cochlear implants would be the best option for Arthur. Dr Birman, having become the family's surgeon, also performed Arthur's surgery.

He would receive what Lucy describes as an early Christmas present—the gift of sound—in late 2021.

Both the boys received support from a dedicated NextSense speech therapist and audiologist before and after their implantation.

Lucy explained that she wanted to equip her children with the skills and confidence to navigate the world on their terms.

‘I went through a lot of challenges in my life, so I want what is best for them so that they can try to rise to those challenges,’ says Lucy.

‘It is good that Arthur and Leo got their implants early—they will be able to access greater verbal speech and language. Early intervention is very important for them to be able to fully access sound and language.’

The family could not be happier with their cochlear implant journey and the positive outcomes they have already experienced.

‘Dr Birman is amazing. She did my cochlear implant, she did Leo’s and now she has done Arthur’s. So maybe if I have another baby who is deaf, she might give us a family discount!’ jokes Lucy.

The best of both worlds

There are many benefits to cochlear implants and being able to access sound can be enjoyed alongside experiencing the joy of being a part of the Deaf world.

Some families, like Lucy and Phillip’s, choose to support their children to develop both Auslan and spoken English language, to give them access to both worlds as they grow.

The NextSense early intervention program promotes the development of listening, language, communication, and social skills, in spoken language, Auslan, or both, to best meet a child's and family's needs. Some families we support choose the bilingual approach to language. Also, some families speak multiple languages, and with hearing aids or cochlear implants children can learn them too.

We also provide leading bilingual education that caters for the academic, social, and cultural needs of children who use Auslan as their first language, through the NextSense School Sign Bilingual Program.

‘It is really nice to have the ability to be in both worlds because in the Deaf world people understand your experience, you understand their experience and you can exchange stories and offer advice and support,’ Lucy says.

‘For me growing up, it was easy to make friends in the Deaf world, and in those spaces, I came out [of my shell] and was more myself. I could go out with them and be really comfortable.’

That is why in addition to developing their spoken English language skills, Lucy and Phillip have been gradually introducing the boys to Auslan signs.

‘I want my children to have that choice—if they know sign language they can fit into the Deaf world and have access to both the hearing and Deaf communities,’ she says.

NextSense Early Intervention—Hearing Services

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