Happy to Put Her Hair Up College student Rachel Knobel treasures the benefits of receiving a cochlear implant at a young age and now embraces life as it comes. E-luminations
E-luminations  |   May 01, 2014
Happy to Put Her Hair Up
Author Notes
  • Rachel Knobel
    is a freshman at the University of Maryland, where she is majoring in government and politics and marketing. ■rachelknobel8@gmail.com
Article Information
Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants & Assistive Technology / E-luminations
E-luminations   |   May 01, 2014
Happy to Put Her Hair Up
The ASHA Leader, May 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.EL.19052014.np
The ASHA Leader, May 2014, Vol. 19, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.EL.19052014.np
I never used to like wearing my hair up. Not to school, not to work and especially not on those windy spring afternoons playing high school tennis. Naturally, I was often asked, “How do you play with your hair down?” “Magic,” I would reply, or I would simply shrug. I’d rather answer this question than another—“What’s that behind your ear?” And even if I had to, I would have explained, “Oh, it’s a hearing aid,” not necessarily wanting to delve into a technical discussion of what a cochlear implant is.
But I’ve never felt this sort of discomfort during my biannual visits to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where I meet with an audiologist to make any necessary adjustments to the mappings of my cochlear implant speech processors. Each appointment is so much more than merely that. I have been visiting the Johns Hopkins Listening Center regularly since 1996, when I was implanted at 18 months old. During each visit, my audiologists take an interest in my life. They begin with sound-booth testing to assess my hearing in both ears, together and individually. Based on the audiograms and any concerns I might have, they spend time carefully programming the processors, enabling me to enjoy the best hearing possible. But my favorite aspect of each appointment is the enjoyable conversation and the personal connection I’ve formed with my audiologists.
I could even sense this connection when I was young. My audiologist would always remember that I loved seeing the bears with their cymbals in the sound booth, and during some of the listening tests, rather than just raising my hand when I heard beeps, I would get to draw or take a turn in a game. My audiologists always knew how to make the appointments interesting and engaging for me as a young child, a time when conversation alone wouldn’t necessarily do the trick. So even now, when I visit and see a colorful chest full of games for the younger patients, I get nostalgic and think about how these trips have been part of my life for longer than I can remember.
My cochlear implants have given me hearing, and my audiologists have helped me refine it. I was born in 1995, before most states had universal hearing screenings. However, my hospital, Sinai in Baltimore, had a grant to study the efficiency of hearing tests. I had an initial screening the day after I was born, and a later test confirmed the finding of profound hearing loss. The early testing allowed for early intervention, culminating in an implant in my right ear at 18 months, which was unusually young for the time. It was the early intervention that made the difference in my life; through speech intervention appointments and hard work at an age when developing brains soak up language, I was rapidly able to make up any lost ground. Since preschool, I have attended mainstream schools with minimal support.
I did not make the decision that I would get a cochlear implant, as I was too young to be aware of the situation. After hearing aids did not help me hear, my parents realized—through meetings with speech-language pathologists, parents of children with hearing loss and otolaryngologist John Niparko—the best decision for me would be to get an implant.
As the technology and surgical process improved, children began to be implanted in both ears at a young age. When I was in fifth grade, I received a cochlear implant in my left ear, making me bilateral for the first time. I remember coming back from spring break that year, and my teacher asked, “What did you do over spring break?” My classmates responded by describing their vacations, while my response was that I had had a surgery that would eventually give me hearing in my left ear.
I don’t think I fully understood that my brain wouldn’t be able to process sounds right away. Instead of hearing people’s voices, the intricate sounds of music, and even noises of appliances around my house, I heard buzzes and beeps. It was as though I was being given clues to find a treasure, but I just didn’t have enough clues yet. I began auditory skill therapy in sixth grade and have trained my left ear to a point that my hearing is significantly different from just wearing the right implant. If I needed to, I could use lip-reading and the sounds I can understand to hear with it alone. The difficult process of learning to hear from my left side for the first time showed me the significance of my early implantation and the wonderful opportunity bilateral implantation offers children, allowing them to develop hearing from both ears simultaneously.
Growing up, I never wanted to be treated differently because I hear differently from other people. I played the flute from fourth to ninth grade, which helped foster an increased appreciation for music of all kinds. I have also played sports since a young age, especially karate, soccer and tennis.
And while I don’t want to be known as the kid with cochlear implants, it’s a huge part of who I am, and I’m proud of what I’ve done to reach the point where I am today. I don’t hesitate to tell teachers if I need preferential seating or captions on videos in class. In sparring matches in karate, the first thing I’ll say is, “Please watch the head contact.” And, I’ve matured out of my embarrassment. On an especially windy day of high school tennis, I did begrudgingly put my hair up, then happily answered questions people had about my hearing.
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May 2014
Volume 19, Issue 5