Tessa, our second daughter, had normal hearing at birth. She started to babble and then talk at the appropriate age. In fact, she was very intentional about language. After waking every morning, she would jump on my lap facing me and, with a huge smile, ask to practice her words. She had a pretty good vocabulary but she was a little hard to understand. Around this same time we also noticed that she had trouble hearing our voices outside.
We had some tests performed and found out that Tessa had a progressive moderate-to-profound hearing loss. I was devastated. Maybe she hadn’t heard the hundreds of times I had told her I loved her and how beautiful she was or all the nights I sang her to sleep. I will never forget this moment, when I realized that the reason my sweet little girl wanted to practice her words so much was that she couldn’t hear well, was reading my lips and was determined to get the words right. God had given my husband and I this gift and He had trusted us to care for her. I was going to do anything I could for her. I was so inspired by her perseverance and her ability to cope and adapt.
One month after Tessa was diagnosed, she got hearing aids and started speech therapy. We had a newborn baby and another young daughter and we were overwhelmed. We had no other hearing loss in our family. I had never seen or met a child with hearing aids and had no idea what this meant for Tessa’s life. We were told she should attend an all-day preschool sign language program in our district with other deaf kids. I visited the school to observe and was in tears the whole time. It was a great place and I loved everyone I met, but it was so quiet. I could not imagine my child fitting in or thriving in this place.
Right away Tessa did great with her aids, hearing all kinds of things some said she would never hear: the wind, the water, the birds. Her speech was improving every day and she was so happy. Her furrowed brow and puzzled look had gone away. All I could think about was how Tessa wanted to practice her words every morning and that research showed the window of opportunity for significant growth in kids with hearing loss was birth to age five. We had no time to waste.
We found another schooling option at Listen and Talk. I remember visiting one of their classrooms, smiling from ear to ear as I listened and watched the teacher working with the kids. We chose this small private school because they knew exactly what Tessa needed and could help map out a plan for her future. We made the right choice, but it was not going to be easy. The commitment involved three years of preschool and three summer sessions. It was two hours of driving on a good day, and it cost money we did not have. Even with these obstacles, we wanted Tessa to have the same chance as other children to learn language by listening and practicing her words.
At 3 ½, six months after starting preschool, Tessa got her first cochlear implant. It was a huge blessing because it made such a big difference in her progress. At this time we were also grateful to find out that, after much deliberation, our school district was offering to pay for Tessa’s entire education at Listen and Talk. Tessa had made such considerable growth that she was now testing well beyond her age level in almost all areas. This amazing school is the place that turned Tessa’s disability into ability and gave her confidence and us hope for the future. I am also thrilled to report that her school helped start an oral program in our school district that is now serving kids in our community.
For kindergarten, Tessa transitioned into our neighborhood school. She would finally join her sister in her five-block walk to school. That year, Tessa was in a classroom with 24 hearing peers and did wonderfully. Today, Tessa is in first grade. She is a great reader, good at math and very social. She is confident speaking in front of her class and communicating with the world around her! She is still a determined, hardworking, happy little girl who loves school and life. She has been welcomed into her new school with open arms and is loved and adored by staff and friends. Tessa has played soccer and skied for the last two years and has taken gymnastics and swim lessons as well.Listen and Talk and Seattle Children’s Hospital held our hands throughout this entire critical period from diagnosis to kindergarten and we rely on both almost as much today. Because of the dedication and perseverance of her teachers, therapists and doctors, Tessa went from being significantly behind to significantly ahead. It has taken over 30 professionals to get her where she is today. We are five years down the road now and even if we could, we wouldn’t go back and change a thing. There are many wonderful people who have come along with us in our journey with Tessa that we never would have had reason to meet if it weren’t for her hearing loss. We feel blessed by how God has provided for her and our family in these many ways.
We want Tessa to remember this early part of her life and to stay connected with friends who are like her. We want her to know how she got her start and the people who sent her off into the world prepared. We hope that she will grow up with a thankful heart and want to give back. She is only seven, yet she has inspired change for kids like her in her part of the world. She may be different in a few small ways, but the difference is to be celebrated and loved. She is who God made her to be and we are very proud of her. How thankful I am to be her mother!