My name is Hope - I was born profoundly deaf in 2010. It was a huge shock to my parents who are themselves both hearing and, with no history of deafness or hearing loss in our family, they found themselves in a very scary and unfamiliar place. They were first time parents adapting to life with a newborn and at just seven weeks old they were told I had no ‘useful hearing’. Or, as the doctor who gave me my diagnosis put it, ‘A jumbo jet could land next to her and she wouldn’t even flinch.’ This was the first of many such comments and a lot of negativity yet to come.

But then all of that changed thanks to the kindness of strangers. My parents were introduced to another family whose daughter Ava is three years older than me and has exactly the same cause of deafness. We both have a faulty gene, known as Connexin 26, which essentially means the tiny hairs in our ears don’t vibrate and transmit sound to our brains the way that yours do. 

My mum told me that meeting this family and hearing their daughter chat away to her parents gave her so much, well I suppose the word is Hope! They shared their experience, their contacts, and, hugely significantly, they were the ones who brought AVUK into our lives.

We live in central London where AVUK now have a second centre, but when I was a baby my parents would take me to the original clinic in Oxfordshire. I had my first appointment when I was just two months old. Obviously I have no memory of this, but my mum often speaks – very emotionally – of that initial session with the late Jacqueline Stoke’s, AVUK’s founder. She has said many times that after facing a tsunami of ‘no’s’ and being told to dial down and manage her expectations for my future, Jacqueline was a breath of fresh air and positivity. She asked what my parents hoped for, for me and my mum said, ‘To have choices, to have opportunities and freedom. To not be pigeonholed by her deafness, starting with going to a mainstream school.’ Jacqueline’s response? ‘Yes! Absolutely she can.’

For the next seven months I wore hearing aids and my fortnightly sessions at AVUK helped me to try to access sound but after months of testing I was finally given the go ahead for surgery to receive bilateral cochlear implants at Great Ormond Street. My deafness is so profound that I only have a tiny island of natural hearing on my right hand side and this wouldn’t allow me to access speech – possibly only the sound of that aforementioned jet engine. Thanks to my cochlear implants, however, I could now technically hear quieter, more subtle and important every day essential sounds – including speech. But cochlear implants are only part of the solution for hearing loss – now I had to learn how to listen, to understand the power of speech and to catch up on all of that natural communication I had missed in my previously silent world.

 And this, THIS, is where I owe the biggest debt of gratitude to AVUK. Thanks to them, I can hear and engage with everyone around me. They taught me that sound had meaning and they quite literally helped me find my voice. By the time I was one, just two and a half months after the surgery, I had age-appropriate communication skills. Having not heard anything, neither in utero or in the nine and a half months before my operation, the patience and support of AVUK and my parents meant I had caught up and suddenly I wasn’t facing a future limited by my deafness, I had just as many opportunities and options as any other natural-hearing child.

I went to a mainstream nursery, a regular prep school and two years ago I joined City of London School for Girls in the Barbican. I am proud to be their first student who wears cochlear implants and hope I can be a pioneer for other students in the future. And that really is the most important message for me to deliver. Deaf children should never be reduced to or written off by their disability. We live in an amazing time of technological advancement and I am living proof of what can happen when this is paired with AVUK therapy.

I’m very passionate about spreading this message and raising awareness and I’m immensely proud to have spoken twice to MP’s and policy makers at the House’s of Parliament. I first spoke at the Power of Speech event organised by AVUK when I was five years old and returned to co-host the event with another AVUK graduate, Beatrice, when I was seven.

More recently I was invited to meet Malala Yousafzi last year to help learn about advocacy and to campaign for the right of every child to have an education and to be valued and supported in reaching their goals.Of course there are challenges but I believe in rising to them. I play netball for my school and in fast-paced games my coils can often become dislodged leaving me in silence, but I have learnt there are things that I can do and strategies I can put in place that mean I do not miss out on the things I love. Like music. My parents were warned that music might be too challenging, overwhelming and just downright unpleasant, for me as a cochlear implant wearer, but I can happily say this isn’t the case. I play the piano and the guitar and sing in my school choir. At the beginning of this school year I sang in a service commemorating the 300 year anniversary of St Paul’s Cathedral and it’s founder, Christopher Wren and I’m working on a plan to secure some elusive Taylor Swift tickets for next summer. I love music and my life is all the richer for it.

I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to have had the support and coaching of AVUK.  

Sadly the number of children with hearing loss who have access to AV therapy in the UK is just 10%. That fact that over 90% of children do not have that opportunity is heart-breaking. Put simply, I wouldn’t be the girl I am today without their help. There is not a day that goes by when I’m not grateful for all they have helped me to achieve. I think a lot about the negativity that my parents faced and how it was AVUK who changed that and who continue to encourage me to chase my dreams and defy the stereotypes and the limitations so often put on people with deafness and hearing loss.