11-year-old Lara is a passionate rugby league fan and player who is kicking goals, on and off the field. And as restrictions are lifted for COVID-19 allowing for community sport to return, Lara is ready to go.
Lara has always loved rugby league. A keen supporter of NRL team, the Parramatta Eels, she has been playing since age four.
Lara is also a bilateral cochlear implant recipient.
“We were never worried about Lara’s hearing loss when it came to football,” says mum, Aimee. “For us, it was key that Lara started sports at a young age, so that she could develop confidence and belief in herself.”
Today, Lara has no shortage of confidence when it comes to her sports, and it’s backed by her talent. The lightning-fast winger also plays touch football, for which she was selected for a local representative team and has recently tried out for a regional one.
Aimee says that Lara’s cochlear implants have helped her in every aspect of life, including at her primary school, where she was recently elected school captain. Lara wholeheartedly agrees. “I love playing rugby league because I get to play with my friends and show my skills. With my [cochlear] implants, I can hear on the field and they help me to play. At school, I can hear my teacher and my friends,” says Lara.
“We chose to get cochlear implants for Lara because we wanted to give her the chance to develop speech and experience the world through sound. She has walked in both the deaf and hearing worlds and can make the choice for herself as she gets older.”
Early Intervention starts Lara on the path to hearing
Lara was diagnosed with hearing loss in both ears just before she was two, when Aimee noticed she wasn’t picking up speech as quickly as her twin brother. A short time later, Lara was fitted with hearing aids and began an Early Intervention program at RIDBC.
It became clear to her RIDBC Teacher of the Deaf that word perception was challenging for Lara, even with hearing aids. As a result, her speech wasn’t developing, and the family decided to explore cochlear implants as an option.
“Lara wasn’t getting any access to sound through her hearing aids and we were concerned it would impact her language development. At the time she could only say about fifty words, and it was only our family who could understand her,” says Aimee.
“Although Lara’s hearing was at a level where hearing aids might be considered effective, for her they weren’t,” explains Samantha Stevens, Lara’s RIDBC Audiologist. “Not being able to hear can be frustrating for anyone, but for a child it can have a real impact on their confidence and their learning.”
Cochlear implants a game changer
Lara was fitted with her first cochlear implant in her right ear at five years of age. For Aimee, this was a game changer. “Another mother of a child with cochlear implants said to me, ‘just wait until you see the difference,’ and she wasn’t wrong. Almost immediately, we saw a massive jump in her speech.”
Samantha explains that while it can take time to have full access to sound with cochlear implants, in Lara’s case it took just two weeks. “Once she had access to sound, her speech began developing rapidly – it’s clear that her hearing was improving.
With her hearing aids, she could hear around 30% of single words. With her first implant, this jumped to 80% quickly, and today, with her bilateral implants, she’s reached 100% in sentences.”
When Lara began primary school, RIDBC continued to support the family, working with Aimee to ensure Lara could make the most of her hearing.
For some a unilateral cochlear implant is best, but that is not the case for all recipients. After the success of the first implant it was determined that a second implant could help Lara have even better access to sound.
Bilateral implants allow the brain to work in its natural state, hearing through both ears and can make it much easier to pick up speech and determine where sound is coming from.
“I was really keen to get her the second implant,” says Aimee. “I knew it would make hearing so much easier for her, and it really did.”
Lara can now not only hear her teammates and officials on the field, but also build stronger connections and socialise with her teammates off it. According to Samantha, increased confidence is a common outcome for recipients. “Access to sound through cochlear implants can help people to build confidence in themselves, at home, in the classroom and in social settings.”
Lara won’t be stopped
When asked what the future holds for Lara, Aimee says she won’t be stopped by anything, least of all her hearing loss. “We’ve taught her to see her hearing loss as simply part of who she is, not a disadvantage. Her cochlear implants have given her access to sound and speech, which will ensure she has the same opportunities as anyone else.”
Aimee encourages people with hearing loss to explore their options for cochlear implants. “If you have the opportunity, jump on it. The difference for Lara has been amazing.”
To start exploring whether cochlear implants could be right for you or your child, contact the RIDBC Client Care team via the phone on 1300 581 391, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or online by visiting www.ridbc.org.au/scic.