When children at Curtis Robinson’s school didn’t understand his hearing loss or why he had cochlear implants, he took matters into his own hands.
“I decided to make a slide show to present to people about my cochlear implant journey so far, to help give people a better understanding about cochlear implants and what it involves,” he says.
The 13-year-old has now presented his slide show to five different audiences – including his school where 600 Whangarei Intermediate School pupils listened, a group of high school students and a number of teachers – some of whom teach pupils with hearing impairments.
“Every presentation I have done, people have asked me lots of questions and congratulated me and said that they learnt a lot and it was good to hear about it from a child’s point of view.”
Curtis’ hearing loss was picked up in 2004.
“Mum and Dad just thought I was a good sleeper. When I was four months old I had a hearing test – that’s when we found out that my hearing loss was moderate to severe in one ear, and severe to profound in the other, so I was fitted with bilateral hearing aids.”
Curtis was able to speak and hear, but over the years his hearing deteriorated and he was having to rely on lip reading a lot more.
“Even the strongest hearing aids were not benefitting me.”
His audiologist suggested he consider cochlear implants. Scans, and speech and hearing tests carried out by The Hearing House proved he qualified for them and his surgery was done in November 2014 when Curtis was 10 years old.
“I was nervous on the day of the switch on. But once they turned it on I just started laughing because Mum and Dad’s voices sounded like Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
“After a couple of days I started to hear noises and sounds I had never heard before, like Moreporks, the reverse beep in the car and the cows down in the far paddock and heaps more.”
CURTIS, WHO DREAMS OF BEING A PARAMEDIC, FIREFIGHTER OR SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER, HAS HAD HIS COCHLEAR IMPLANTS FOR MORE THAN TWO YEARS NOW.
“It was a big life-changing experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I didn’t realise how much I was missing out on.”
The Whangarei resident says having cochlear implants can sometimes work to his advantage.
“If people are nagging at me I just flick my implants off and then I can’t hear anything,” he says.
Curtis says he has had “heaps” of support from his family, friends and staff from the Kelston Deaf Education Centre (KDEC).
“School has its challenges as a lot of kids don’t understand, and that’s why I decided to make my slide show to help others understand more about my disability.”
He also hopes his presentations will benefit upcoming patients and their families and says his “future plans” involve writing a book about his experiences.
“It can be very overwhelming and scary..…when you don’t know much about [cochlear implants].”
Curtis says other kids with cochlear implants need to remember that even though they “might look different…..we can still excel and achieve our goals and live a normal life”.
“And how many kids can say that they have got bionic ears?”
Cochlear implant habilitationist Jayne Simpson Allen, from KDEC, says Curtis’ talkative and inquisitive nature have worked to his advantage when it comes to speeding up his rehabilitation.
“Curtis is an excellent listener. He is able to have complex conversations without relying on lip-reading if the background is quiet.”
Jayne says Curtis “is an excellent advocate for students with hearing loss”.
Helen Gatman, also from KDEC, has known Curtis since he was three years old and is his Resource Teacher of the Deaf and ASSIST (Assessment Involving Specialist Teacher).
She has worked with Curtis to develop language and literacy and supported Curtis, his family and teachers by providing information about his hearing loss and monitoring his educational and audiological needs.
Helen says Curtis has been great to work with. “He has always had above average language, is motivated and keen to learn.
“Having his cochlear implants made a huge difference – prior to that, conversation had become very difficult for him, having to sit close and focus intently on mouth patterns to make sense of what was being said to him.”
She says Curtis made the transition from hearing aids to cochlear implants “extremely quickly”.
“He is an awesome role model for other students and their families who are considering cochlear implants,” Helen says.
Curtis’ parents, Carmen Truman and Grant Robinson, say it was “quite a shock” to learn that their son had a hearing loss.
“There were no family members born hearing impaired or deaf. It was just one of those unfortunate things. Because it was picked up at an early age it hasn’t affected his speech at all and boy does he like to talk – he is a real chatterbox.”
The couple says their “caring and loveable” son hasn’t let being deaf hold him back from doing the things he loves to do.
“We are so proud of all the challenges that he has overcome and how he excels in everything he does.
“He has coped extremely well with his deafness as it was picked up at an early age and it has just been part of his life.”
They say Curtis coped very well with the transition from hearing aids to cochlear implants.
“He just got on with it because he knew that he would be able to hear better and wouldn’t miss out on as much.
“It was a total success and the benefits that Curtis has received from having the surgery means it was the right decision for him. We have no regrets at all.”
Carmen and Grant also have an 11-year-old daughter Alice. She was born with a bi-lateral clef lip and palate and will have surgeries until she is about 16.
The pair say having a deaf child can be “challenging” at times, but support from family members and professionals makes it a lot easier.
“We have never treated Curtis as being any different than any other child and have always told him from a young age that there are many children out there worse off than he is,” they say. “Everybody is unique in their own way.”
My Cochlear Implant Journey – slideshow by Curtis