What It’s Like to be 13 and Have Cochlear Implants

13 year old

As a parent of a toddler with profound hearing loss, I often think about what Sonya’s life will be like in ten or twenty years. I recently had the pleasure of connecting with 13-year-old Davis James, who wears a hearing aid and cochlear implant. She was very generous to share her story and experience with me and the world. As a parent of a young child who was also born deaf, her honest responses and wise (beyond her years) perspective brings me so much insight and hope.

Can you discuss your hearing loss? When did you lose your hearing and when did you get implanted?
I was born deaf and I was implanted with a cochlear implant in one ear just before my third birthday. My hearing loss was a big blessing. There are so many new things that cochlear implant users have access to, whereas the hearing world does not.

Really? Like what?
For example, I’m able to listen to music secretly in class and not get in trouble for it. Another hilarious moment was when me and my friends didn’t do our homework for our language arts class. We had to be sent out in the hallway to finish it up and while we did, the teacher forgot to mute the FM unit and I could hear her go through the answers with the rest of the class. Of course, I shared the answers with my friends (although I did confess to the teacher afterward. Honesty is important!)

Another moment (a gross one) was when my teacher went to the bathroom with the FM unit…you definitely don’t wanna learn more about that!!

Haha! That’s so funny and gross!! Do you think you hear differently from your family or friends?
I have no idea how I hear differently. I do listen to music differently. I use a Phonak ComPilot and connect it to my phone with Bluetooth so I can listen to music wirelessly. My friends get so jealous (in a funny way) when I explain it. I was very happy that when I explained it to people, they really listened and understand how it works, really because we’re living in the age of technology.
Davis James

What challenges have you faced socially because of the implants (if any)?
I started school in a deaf/hard of hearing school. There I made lots of friends who were just like me. My best friend and I played soccer together (my dad was the coach).

When I was in second grade I transferred to a hearing school. At the mainstream school, I had to learn how to be friends with hearing people, and they had to learn what it’s like to be deaf and what I needed. Not being able to hear without the cochlear implants was equally epic and sometimes saddening (inability to understand, etc.) Socially I have faced problems as a result. A lot of times, I can’t comprehend what other people say in daily conversations. It tires me to have to turn up my hearing aid’s volume because whenever I turn it up, everything is louder. Restaurants and crowded places are the worst places to socialize. I can barely hear what other people say in conversations.

For real, I absolutely despise it when I can’t understand people unless they look at me (it’s easier when I can read their lips and listen at the same time). The bigger part of that was when I have to remind them. It is tiring! When people say things like “never mind” I feel ashamed for not being able to understand.

There are other challenging aspects, but the thing is, everyone has challenges. We learn to get through it despite our disabilities.

Do people treat you differently because of your CI and hearing aid?
I haven’t noticed so. It took me a long time to learn how to advocate for myself, though. I finally learned the day my hearing aid stopped working with the other Phonak products (like the FM system) and I had difficulty learning. I knew advocating for myself was the right path and as I progressed, I became a better advocate for myself and others.

How do you advocate for yourself?
I position myself in the classroom to optimize my hearing. I speak up when I don’t follow the discussion.

Do you do sign?
Before I was implanted I knew some sign and I learned a bit as I got older. Since the second grade, I haven’t done much signing as I have learned to communicate with hearing people.

“There are other challenging aspects, but the thing is, everyone has challenges. We learn to get through it despite our disabilities.” – Davis James, 13 

What is your favorite activity outside of school?
I played soccer for eight years, but quit when I started sixth grade because I wanted to focus on other interests. Right now, my favorite thing to do outside of school is definitely to play video games like Overwatch or Fortnite Battle Royale.

What’s your favorite subject?
Science and art.

Can you describe how you care for your CIs and hearing aid?
I care for my CIs as if they were an extension of myself. It’s pretty hilarious, I sometimes forget I am deaf because my CI is almost unnoticeable to myself. It was easy to get into the habit of taking it off, plugging in the batteries when I go to bed and taking them off for the shower. I also see an audiologist annually. I graduated from speech therapy in fourth grade since I was progressing very well.

Thank you, Davis so very much for sharing your story!! You inspire me and you are such a wonderful role model for our children!!  

P.s. if you are interested in how a CI sounds to someone who lost their hearing later in life, check out our prior post: How Does a Cochlear Implant Sound vs Normal Hearing? Barb Cole Shares Her Perspective

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