Music plays a huge part in the lives of Raglan mum Katrina Batt, the drummer in an all-women band, and her husband, Ashley Knox, a guitar teacher and musician, so finding out their first child, Hendrix, now 11, had been born profoundly deaf was a major shock. "It was massive trauma. You never see this coming," says Katrina. The deafness was found to be caused by a silent gene that both parents carry but hadn't known about. Given a one in four chance of having a deaf child, they went on to have Stevie, 8, who can hear, and Aretha, 7, who was also born profoundly deaf.
Both children received cochlear implants at 8 months, but their journeys had only just begun. "People just assume that because they've had the surgery, they can put the implants on like a pair of spectacles and instantly see," says Katrina. "But technology's only one part of it. The rest of the work's done in auditory-verbal therapy where they learn how to decode the meaning of the sounds they hear, which are a bit like speech underwater. It can take years to get their listening and speech on a peer level."
There was also no guarantee the children would be able to listen to music because cochlear implants don't work for everyone. "Not knowing in those early stages was definitely hard," she says. Fortunately, the children took to the implants extremely well and after four years of therapy at The Hearing House in Greenlane, had not only caught up to but overtaken their hearing peers in speech and language. Both started at Te Mata primary school at age 5 but they still have to work hard to interpret sound, especially in noisy environments, which is tiring. They need small classrooms and sit close to the teacher. "They still lip read to a certain extent and we do a bit of sign as well."
Their parents have been "blown away" to discover both children adore music. Hendrix loves listening to 80s tunes on Spotify and Aretha loves to sing. "She sings everywhere. She's in the school choir, she turns our lounge into a Broadway stage daily. She's a happy, happy child - very bubbly and loving. She loves swimming and surfing and is highly resilient. She takes everything by the horns and won't take no for an answer."
Cochlear implant recipient Aretha Knox, 7, with mum Katrina Batt and dog Sophie
They often get comments from people who would never have known the children were deaf and had cochlear implants unless they'd been told. Asked to consider what life might be like without the cochlear implants, dad Ashley says they would have adjusted. "We can see that they would be happy without them too. We're still very pro-signing. For us, the decision to have the implants is basically about giving them options in the world of hearing people," he says.
The 7-year-old explained it best in the speech she delivered recently at the Australian Parliament in Canberra for the Power of Speech conference. "Whatever happens in my future I'm sure it will be filled with laughter and fun and most probably surf. My cochlear implants have given me the power of speech but they've given me much more than that. They've given me a future where I can be anything I want, do anything I want, hear anything I want. I can choose anything I want," she said.
Auckland Airport general manager of corporate services Mary-Liz Tuck says the $12,000 grant will be used to continue funding auditory-verbal therapy at The Hearing House for cochlear implant recipients. "We are extremely proud to help adults and children access a life-changing service. It will open a whole new world of educational and employment opportunities that lead to social independence and a better quality of life for them," she says.