My name is Olivia and I was born with a sensory-neural bilateral hearing impairment. I have lived most of my life with a mild-moderate hearing loss in the left ear and moderate-severe in the right, affecting my ability to hear high frequency sounds. That’s why I need to wear bilateral hearing aids.
Today, I am on my journey to receive a cochlear implant in my right ear, after experiencing further loss in my right ear to a profound level and moderate-severe in my left ear.
The Shepherd Centre
The Shepherd Centre gave my family and I wonderful support for more than three years, putting us into a program when I was first diagnosed at the age of 2½ years old right up until I started school. As part of this program I started receiving help with my speech and language so I could function better in the speaking world, rather than rely on signing for the rest of my life. I also received support from an Audiologist, Teachers of the Hearing Impaired and Speech Pathologists at the recommendation of The Shepherd Centre.
Now, I am appreciative of the help and support I received from these professionals and I feel it is time for me to return my appreciation and show current children and parents who attend how far I have come.
I began my school life at a mainstream school – initially public, then Catholic for both primary and high school – 24 years ago. Throughout my school life I was fortunate enough to have consistent 1-on-1 support of an Itinerant Teacher one day a week.
In high school my itinerant teacher wore hearing aids herself and it enabled me to see a future for myself – I thought if she could do what she is doing now, I can too!
I also received regular Speech Therapy from a Speech Pathologist, which now I am grateful that I received that support at the time. Along with the consistent support from my family and participating in debating, this speech therapy gave me the confidence to become school captain in primary.
The challenging part of this was that I didn’t like being pulled out of class. I knew that the 1-on-1 support in a separate room would be helpful in the long run – and it was!
I used an FM system in primary, secondary and university. The FM, provided to me by the Australian Hearing Centre, consists of a microphone for the teacher and another attachment – known as a shoe – to my own hearing aid. This isolates the voice of the teacher/lecturer, projecting it directly into my ear.
At the time, I felt embarrassed to use the FM, as I was the only one in the class using this piece of equipment. Yet determined, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear and understand what was going on without it. Now, as I look back, I am so grateful I did use the FM even when I felt embarrassed, because I wouldn’t be where I am today without having used it.
My parents, being teachers and aware of the challenges I may face, got me started on touch typing as early as primary school, to help with note taking during class. In combination with my ability to lip-read, I was able to sit and type down notes at the same time. During exams, I was fortunate enough to have extra time, placed in a separate room from my other peers and able to use a dictionary. This was a good thing for me because each year I was at school, my anxiety levels had increased – and where exams are a naturally anxious time, these special provisions decreased my anxiety levels to a level where I was able to focus and complete my exams. Because of my hearing impairment, the intense focus and listening required during a normal school day made me exhausted at the end of the day.
Today, I enjoy singing and listening to the vibration and energy of the sound waves that music creates. It is through that, that I have found joy and a voice.
Sport / Music
I have always been an active person, involved in a variety of sports including tennis, netball, and cricket before finding my passion in soccer. Although, having a hearing impairment didn’t stop me developing my passion in sport – there were some sports such as swimming and water polo that were difficult as I couldn’t wear my hearing aids while competing in these sports. I played soccer for seven years – playing on a team really helped me to learn how to listen in different ways. The challenging part of playing sport was not hearing high frequency sounds – an example would be this one time when I was playing soccer apparently I was offside, the referee blew the whistle – I didn’t hear it and went ahead and kicked a goal. The referee stopped the game and yelled out ‘What are you? Deaf or something?’
My other passion is music. I was brought up surrounded by music. Being hearing impaired didn’t stop me developing my love of music. As a child – I loved, and still love, listening to and watching the movie ‘The Sound of Music’. This love for music came one of the teachers at The Shepherd Centre, who was also a pianist. This remarkable teacher used my interest in The Sound of Music to help me develop skills to function in the hearing and speaking world.
I was involved in the school orchestra both in primary and high school, at Brigidine College Randwick, playing the clarinet – having a hearing impairment doesn’t stop you from developing your passion. This may come as a surprise to you that a hearing impaired person can not only find delight in music, but can play it. My father is a musician and my mother’s family are musicians too, which is where I developed my love for music. I look back now and appreciate the opportunities my music teachers gave me.
Because of my time at The Shepherd Centre and with the consistent support given to me from my family, my hearing loss does not affect my communication – although I do need the occasional reminder of speech clarity. With this in mind, I do find it difficult in environments like pubs. However, I am still able to enjoy myself – singing along to the music and vibration of sound. Some of these pubs don’t have good lighting, making it difficult for me to communicate. This is because I rely on lip-reading as part of my communication. In these situations, I have developed and continue to develop strategies to cope.
I hope my story shows you all that despite the struggles many of us go through, you can achieve what you want from life with the right amount of support from family – mums, dads, friends and places like The Shepherd Centre. Success comes from a strong determination and a great will to survive through the challenges life throws at you.
Watch a fantastic interview with Olivia produced by the Bankstown Youth Development Service: