Three-year-old Felix Williams loves to dress up in superhero costumes. His mother Joanne says he can have as many as three costume changes a day, depending on whether he feels more like Buzz Lightyear, Spider-man or Batman at the time.
In his parents’ eyes, Felix is already a hero. Born profoundly deaf, he had two cochlear implants fitted at five months old to enable him to hear, and since then his language skills have developed as any other toddler’s would.
‘‘He was profoundly deaf, so we didn’t have anything to lose,’’ mum Joanne says.
‘‘You learn naturally to hear with two ears, so why not do both implants together?’’
Felix’s diagnosis at two-and-a-half weeks old was unexpected and Williams and her husband David, from Windang, later discovered they were both carriers for the genetic condition that caused his deafness.
While they were initially ‘‘devastated’’ to learn Felix was deaf and that hearing aids would be of no use, Williams says the cochlear implants have made life much easier.
‘‘He basically went from absolutely nothing to hearing sounds across the speech spectrum, but outside of that we’re not sure.’’
‘‘He seems to hear really high-pitched birds and low-pitched rumbles, but whether he can differentiate between two really low-pitched sounds we don’t know.’’
Whereas hearing aids simply amplify sound, cochlear implants bypass the damaged area to stimulate the hair cells on the cochlea, the hearing component of the inner ear.
As language develops in children most naturally between birth and the age of four, research around the implants suggests early detection and implantation lead to the best outcomes. About 500 children are born with hearing loss in Australia each year.
Felix is already speaking in complete sentences and is aware of what the little devices behind his ears help him with.
‘‘He calls them his CIs, so in the morning he asks us to put his CIs in so he can hear, or if they fall off he’ll tell me his CIs are off, or if I’m telling him off he’ll turn them off and say ‘‘I can’t hear you’’,’’ Williams laughs.
‘‘Everything we do is always annotated, so when he drives a car around, we ‘‘broom’’ the car around, we talk about the car, how it’s a little car, it’s a red car, how it drives on the road and what else drives on the road. We build up language into everything.’’
While the couple would have been happy to learn sign language if the implants were unavailable, Williams says the implants have opened up a world their son would otherwise have been unable to hear.
October 19 is Loud Shirt Day – a day to wear a colourful, outlandish shirt to raise money for First Voice, which promotes awareness of childhood deafness. To take part in Loud Shirt Day, register at www.loudshirtday.com.au.