By Taylor Thompson
As an infant, I loved when my aunts and uncles brought out the pots and pans. They banged them as loudly as they could and I would giggle away—unlike a typical baby, who would likely be startled by loud sounds. My failure to react was one of the early signs my family noticed that I was different. In fact, my mother had a gut feeling I was deaf and took me to a doctor.
At first doctors dismissed my mother's intuition because I babbled and made noises like typical babies do, and was not mute as many deaf babies are. However, she remained persistent and took me to more doctors until finally at age 18 months I was diagnosed with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss.
Originally, I was fitted with behind-the-ear hearing aids. After some time and further hearing tests, it was evident that hearing aids were not enough. Doctors determined that I was a candidate for the then-new cochlear implant in 1995. At 2 ½ years old I received a cochlear implant (CI) at the Riley Hospital for Children by Dr. Richard T. Miyamoto, who is an HHF Honorary Board Member.
My mother made sure I received the CI as soon as possible because she wanted to ensure I had the best chances for developing speech and hearing. Although it seems young, 2 ½ years old is a late age to begin speech development, so I attended speech therapy throughout elementary school until I reached a proficiency comparable to my age group (which was around 5th grade).
Until I could learn to speak effectively and comprehend spoken language, I used Exact English sign language. I learned Exact English because it’s structure closely resembles the spoken and written language structure, so my transition would be easier when I began to speak and read. At some point, I am not sure when, I stopped utilizing Exact English and completely transitioned to understanding others through a combination of lip-reading and hearing.
When I was younger, I attended a mainstream school that had a hard-of-hearing program. This was unique because I was able to interact with peers ranging from hearing to completely deaf—like myself. While growing up in this program brought wonderful opportunities, it still did not come without hardships.
During my time in this school, I was mocked for not being able to hear as well as the other students in my class who also had hearing loss, but not by those with full hearing. Being bullied by my hard-of-hearing peers and not my hearing peers was very confusing; it was easier to comprehend why someone might have trouble accepting me if they could not relate to me, but these peers were also struggling with hearing issues.
This became my biggest struggle growing up—understanding my identity—as I was ridiculed for being deaf while having this thing (my cochlear implant) on my head. I spent a lot of time after school exploring questions such as: Am I really deaf because I can hear with this thing (CI)? What does it mean to be deaf? Am I a disabled person or do I just do things differently?
Being deaf with only one CI has limitations since my hearing loss affects both my ears. To overcome some of these limitations, I have a wonderful hearing service dog named Zoë. Her most important role is to alert me by nudging me with her nose when a sound goes off, such as door knocks, a kitchen timer buzzing, and the noise of a pedaling bike. These alerts are especially helpful when I am not wearing my implant at night or when I cannot distinguish white noise from a specific noise, like a passing car.
Despite the challenges I have faced, with the support of my family, friends, and a loyal dog, I persevered and became the person I am today—resilient, confident, and proud. And little did I know but appreciation for my loyal childhood dog inspired me to work with animals for the rest of my life.
Through diligence and determination, I was accepted to Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, where I am currently in my second year studying to become a small-animal veterinarian. I hope someday to combine veterinary work with giving back to the community, including disabilities awareness and advocating for hearing health.
Taylor Thompson is a 23-year-old veterinary student at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine in Indiana.