Our Graduates - Where are they now? - Bethany

16 May 2017

It’s great catching up with our alumni, and today we are hearing Bethany’s story from diagnosis to where she is now; and she’s been busy!

“Bethany” she called, the baby was up, she could see her. Peering around the door, she called again. “Bethany”. No response. She tried again and yelled “Bethany!” Her daughter did not respond until she looked around and saw her mother.

I was 10 months old. My mum knew that due to my lack of response to her voice, there was something going on.

It took five months to get an answer as I was a bright and happy baby and doctors were convinced there was nothing wrong with me. At 15 months of age, I was diagnosed as being profoundly deaf. The cause of my deafness is unknown as there is no family history and I had not had any major illnesses. With a family that was all hearing, it was hard for my parents to be told by a number of specialists that I was unlikely to develop any usable speech. They were told that I would have to learn to sign and go to school far away from home. I would become a part of a community they knew nothing about and one that they would never truly belong in. My communication level would be better with my siblings than it ever would be with my parents. There would be an entire family I would never be able to truly communicate with.

Then, one day, the phone rang. A representative from the Cora Barclay Centre in Adelaide had gotten my parent’s number and invited them to visit the centre. They went ahead and toured the centre with some hesitation. During the tour, the principal told my parents, “We believe we can teach Bethany how to speak.”

This was the first time since I had been diagnosed that my parents had heard something positive. My parents began to believe that there was a chance and went ahead with the Centre’s program. I was fitted with hearing aids, and started intensive Auditory-Verbal Therapy, with my teacher, Kerry. But the lessons didn’t stop there - there were listening games every day, in the morning, before bed, and during the day, when my mum would constantly talk to me about everything to fully immerse me in a world of sound. I was two years old when my hearing was re-tested and it was discovered the little hearing I had deteriorated even further. I was taken to my ENT, Dr John Rice, who told my parents that the time had come to seriously consider a cochlear implant. It was early days of children receiving cochlear implants and only ever considered for the deafest of the deaf. It was a hard decision for my parents, who eventually decided it was the best option for me - I would lose nothing because I had no hearing, and if the implant failed, I could still learn to sign. But if I did not receive the implant, and soon, I would never develop normal speech.

More than a year later, I was implanted, and switched on at nearly four years old. To this day I still remember running outside and hearing things I had never heard before. The sprinkler was pointed out to me, the birds flew above, the clock was ticking and the pram with my younger brother in it was rolling along the path. There was still a lot of work to do.

When it was time for me to leave kindergarten, and go to school, there was much debate as to whether I should be held back or not. This was because I was five years old and had the language age of a three year old. I was allowed to enter Reception, with the idea that if I was behind, I could repeat. It was difficult to find a school that would accept me, because it was early days when children with implants were entering the school system. All the schools happily accepted my older sister, but would not promise a place for me. We were fortunate to find a school happy to take me on despite the unknown challenges. I ended the year, and went into year 1 the next year. I started to excel in the classroom. By the time I was 10, I tested as speaking as an adult in some areas of my language skills. I went from two visits a week to once a term on a merely monitor service over the course of 7 years at school. At the age of 12, mum and I were flown out to Sydney to be trained as part of a new initiative by cochlear - called the Cochlear Awareness Network or CAN. Mum and I were heavily involved for several years, speaking to over 60 service clubs and groups in the state about our experiences. 

In year 12, I entered a public speaking competition called ‘Lion’s Youth of the Year.’ I was lucky enough to progress to the state finals - one of only two students from my high school to have done so. I finished High School in 2011, as top of my class in 4 of 5 of my final year subjects, meaning I achieved an ATAR in the 90’s.

I started my Bachelor Degree in Media, with a major in journalism in 2012. I was lucky enough to meet Professor Graeme Clarke, a man I owe so much to in the same year. He is a humble man, who still works to improve the lives of the hearing impaired.

In 2013, with generous support, I was able to study abroad for a semester. I went to California, USA. I studied at a liberal arts college about an hour away from Los Angeles called Pitzer College. I had the time of my life - I made many friends who I will keep for life, and saw many things I will never forget. When my semester at Pitzer ended, I travelled around the country for a bit. This included having my first ever white Christmas, and experiencing snow fall. I also went to many places I’d read about, or seen on a screen, such as the Lincoln memorial, and Route 66.

In 2014, I received a scholarship to travel to Japan and study media. I did not know a word of Japanese, but that did not stop me from having an incredible time. This trip was the first time my classmates were told I had a hearing impairment, and many were quite shocked. I finished my Bachelor’s degree in 2014, juggling three part time jobs – working as a shop manager at a chocolate factory, as a promotions ambassador and working for University of Adelaide.

I completed internships at ABC, Radio Adelaide and Total Girl Magazine. I did cause dead air on Radio Adelaide for a few seconds because I could not hear that the sound was not coming through - I only wear a cochlear implant on my right side, and the audio came through the left side of the headphone.

I was 20 when I finished my bachelor’s degree, and turned 21 not long after. In 2015 I was accepted into RMIT’s media communication honours program, something I worked hard for. After a month long stint as an intern in Brisbane, I returned to Adelaide for two weeks before moving to Melbourne, where I have been since. I completed honours with first class honours, and immediately moved into work at Stockland. I am now a full time Marketing Assistant at Stockland, helping to market residential developments in Victoria. I have recently started marketing my own communities, and am on track to becoming a Community Marketing Manager soon.

In 2016, I was offered both a scholarship and a bursary by the University of Melbourne to study Masters in Marketing Communications. Not one to let an opportunity pass me by, I am studying part-time while working at Stockland.

But that’s not all – I am continuing to pursue my love of travel, and take the opportunity to do so when possible. In the past two years I have visited Vietnam, the United States and New Zealand, with many more on the horizon. Sometimes I travel alone, and manage just fine. In fact I noticed that because I can understand body language well, I found it easier to communicate with the locals who didn’t speak English than my traveling partner did on our last trip!

The Cora Barclay Centre gave me the skills and the tools I needed to live an independent, satisfying life full of adventure. 

If you have a child who is deaf or hearing impaired and would like to talk about the opportunities available to them through the Cora Barclay Centre please just drop us a line with your phone number and we can give you a call, or call the Centre during business hours (08 8267 9200). 


Kerry Bissaker

17 May 2017 - 10:01 pm

Fabulous story Bethany, you have so much to be proud of. It was a privilege to teach you & work closely with your wonderful family. You’ve brought so much joy to the lives of so many - keep chasing your dreams!

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