At four months old, Amelie, was diagnosed with a profound hearing impairment, yet thanks to her cochlear implants (CIs), she attends a mainstream school and hopes to study medicine one day. Her mother, Olga González Pérez, who is a MED-EL hearing mentor in Germany, talks about their experience of education.
Olga, your daughter Amelie is deaf and has two cochlear implants (CIs). You decided from the beginning that you wanted her to go to a mainstream school. What was most important to you when choosing the school?
From the start, we realised that Amelie needed to be in a small school with small classes, so that the background noise level wasn’t too high. We were finally able to find a mainstream primary school with just two classes per year group, and the head was very open-minded. Amelie was the first hearing-impaired child in the school. We also had a support teacher who was a great help.
Amelie lives with her parents in Schwetzingen, Germany.
She is the German champion in deaf golf and in 2017, as the youngest competitor since the competition began in 2009, she came third in the European Deaf Golf Open Championships. In July 2018 she took part in the World Deaf Golf Championships in Ireland and won the 2019 European Deaf Golf Open Championship in Sweden. Amelie is looking forward to learning Spanish, her mother’s native tongue, at school soon.
What was the biggest challenge at school?
Despite the classes being relatively small, the biggest challenge was the noise in the background. Even with an implant, Amelie only hears sounds from 30 decibels (people with normal hearing can hear from 25 decibels or below, according to the World Health Organization), which can be challenging in a noisy environment such as a classroom.
As a result, it was important to compensate for Amelie’s hearing impairment with an FM system – a technical device that helps transmit sound straight to her CIs. Although there’s a law that stipulates that children with special needs have the right to be included in mainstream education, no one seemed to know exactly what it meant. We were often told: “You can send your child to a mainstream school, but it mustn’t cost any more.” And of course an FM system is expensive. But we pushed for it and it was finally installed.
What would it be like for Amelie if she didn’t have the FM system?
The FM system transmits the voices of the teacher and the students directly to her CIs. Without it, Amelie would miss important information.
Do you think that Amelie would have been able to go to a mainstream school without her CIs?
Absolutely not. She’s deaf. She would have had to go to a special school or a school for children with learning difficulties. We’re delighted that the implants have been so successful and we’re so grateful for all that they enable her to do.
What is necessary for children with CIs to thrive in a mainstream school?
For me the fact that the teacher is open-minded is very important, especially when it comes to trying new ways of doing things. Before changing from primary to secondary school, we had a meeting with the teachers and it was Amelie who told them all about herself. It’s important that the teachers take the time to find out about hearing with a CI and its challenges but it’s equally important that the parents show understanding and patience. What is also important in my opinion, is that we always remember that all children, with or without a CI, are amazing beings who have enormous potential. It would be good if we, as parents, were a little more humble, considering everything that our children do.
Hearing with both ears
MED-EL emphasizes the importance of bilateral implantation for people who are severely hearing-impaired in both ears with implants on both sides, especially children. Hearing with both ears, as opposed to one, means that a person can more accurately detect sound direction, and can distinguish important from unimportant sounds more easily. Music sounds fuller and richer with two ears. It is therefore important for people with a severe or profound hearing loss in both ears to receive an implant for each ear. Children in particular benefit from this. Experience shows that deaf children bilaterally implanted learn language more easily, concentrate less on hearing, and are more confident than those implanted with just one.