Sports and Cochlear Implants: One Swimmer’s Story

When Sonya received cochlear implants, one of the first challenges we faced – before learning to listen or speak was simply – how to keep them on her head. At 3, Sonya is not yet into sports, but whether her devices will prohibit her from participating in such activities in the future is a question I have wondered and have heard from other parents of kids like Sonya.

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Through Facebook, I connected with Summer Harrison, a mom to four kids, two of whom have hearing loss. Her oldest daughter, Paisley, received hearing aids at one year of age, and was implanted with cochlear implants on one ear when she was three years old, and on the second at three and-a-half.

Today, Paisley is seven-years-old. She is a competitive swimmer. Summer recently posted the below video to her Facebook page of Paisely diving into a pool during a swim meet, and mentioned how Paisley’s coach talks to her using a Mini Mic. I just had to hear more:

Can you tell us a bit about Paisley’s hearing loss? How did you learn of it?

Paisley is the oldest of four children and has a twin sister Presley. Born at 34 weeks, the girls spent two weeks in the NICU. While Paisley failed her newborn hearing screen, she was not officially diagnosed until she was ten months of age. She received her hearing aids when she was a year old. Because of my background as a Deaf Education teacher and certified interpreter, I felt it important that Paisley have access to both sign and spoken language. The hearing aids were wonderful for the first couple of years. Paisley’s spoken language skills quickly took off with the additional amplification, but at two and-a-half, we noticed that she was behaving in ways that weren’t typical for her. Her spoken language skills began to plateau and she started to increase sensory seeking behaviors and meltdowns. During this time, I also noticed Paisley become more dependent on sign language to communicate. Audiologists and speech therapists confirmed that she needed cochlear implants.

Paisley received her first cochlear implant at 3 years and 2 months, and her second five months later. While we continued to use sign language after activation, Paisley soon told me to stop signing because in her words, “she didn’t need it.” Paisley still knows some sign, but prefers to listen and speak.

How did Paisley get into swimming?

My parents have a pool and Paisley has always loved the water. She would stay in until we made her get out. After watching the 2016 summer Olympics, she became interested in competitive swimming. This past summer, Paisley had a few lessons with a woman who coaches competitive swimming and then Paisley tried out for a local team.

Which device does Paisley have? Does she use additional equipment?

Paisley wears the Cochlear Nucleus 6 sound processor. She wears the Nucleus Aqua+ for swimming which is a silicone case that her processors slide into in order to make it waterproof. It comes with special coils that are made for swimming. It also has a fishing line type cable that I clip to her swimsuit in case it falls off while swimming.

How does Paisley’s coach handle her hearing loss? Is it an issue?

It is sometimes difficult for Paisley to hear when she’s in the water because it is loud in the pool are and because the Aqua+ and her swim cap muffle the sounds a bit. Paisley’s coach has been very patient and wonderful. She wears Cochlear’s Mini Mic 2+ when she isn’t in the water with the kids, and when she is in the water, she makes sure that Paisley is able to see her and understand what she says. Her coach even learned some sign to help give Paisley instructions during swim practice. Our audiologist set up a special program for Paisley that helps her hear a little better when in the pool as well.

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Presley and Paisley
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The whole crew. From left to right: Paisley (7), Pierson (2), Patton (3) and Presley (7).

How does Paisley keep her coils on her head while swimming?

Her coils stay on well since she wears a swim cap, but for race days, I usually braid them into her hair to help them stay on better. On practice days, I usually just tuck them under her hair and pull her hair into a pony tail.

What precautions do you take to protect her implants?

When Paisley swims, we always make sure that her implants are secure in the Aqua+ and that the retention cable is clipped to her swimsuit. After she is finished swimming, all pieces of the Aqua+ and her processors go into a drying box to make sure there is no moisture left.

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Paisley uses a drying box like the Zephyr to ensure water doesn’t affect her processors

Have you ever damaged equipment during a swim event?

The only issue we have had so far is that once Paisley didn’t get her Aqua+ case closed all the way and water got inside with the processor. Her coach helped her get the water out and seal it better so that it didn’t happen again. The devices never stopped working, however. When we got home, I put the wet processor in the drying box to get rid of any excess moisture. After this incident, I help Paisley make sure her Aqua+ cases are closed properly before she heads into practice.

Has swimming helped Paisley with her language?

Swimming helped Paisley develop better social skills. She is learning specialized language she never would have been exposed to had it not been for swimming. She is learning to follow directions well, and has made great friends. Paisley is learning what it means to compete and accept that you don’t always win. Knowing she has to practice hard to improve her skills is a valuable lesson. While Paisley always gets nervous before a race, I am thrilled with how much she enjoys it.

If you could tell a new parent to a child born with hearing loss one thing about their kid’s future, what would it be?

You will learn things about yourself and your child on this journey that will amaze you every day. I think it’s important to connect with other parents so that you can share your grief and your victories. It’s a unique journey and it helps to surround yourself with others who understand what you are going through.

Go Paisley Go!!! Thank you Summer and Paisley for sharing your story!

P.s. You can read more about Paisely and her incredible family on Cochlear Americas website here.

 

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3 thoughts

  1. Hi,
    I am a deaf swimmer and swam at the deaflympics last year for DeaflympicsGB (2017). I just wanted to say that your daughter looks like she is doing amazingly and I definitely found that swimming helped me with confidence and communication as you have to rely on other techniques of communication. Plus I made a lot of new friends. I was reading the post and just wanted to say (to you daughter) keep swimming and well done. 🙂

  2. Hi
    I went to the deaflympics last year (2017) for swimming and just wanted to say that this blog is so true and good. Swimming is such a good sport for deaf people as it helps them in so many was and it is so fun. So I hope Paisely keeps swimming and continues inspiring other people. 🙂

  3. Hi
    I swam at the deaflympics last year (2017) and just wanted to say that this blog is so true and good. Swimming is such a good sport for deaf people as it helps them in so many was and it is so fun. So I hope Paisely keeps swimming and continues inspiring other people. 🙂

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