The first time Joshua McKenzie heard the birds sing, he was confused. He wasn’t sure what it was – only to see tears well up in his mother’s eyes.
“It was quite an emotional time for me,” says Joshua’s mum, Michelle Shepherd.
“I thought he always knew what bird song was like till I saw that quizzical look on his face.”
At the age of six, the Farm Cove Intermediate student was diagnosed with 60 per cent hearing loss in one ear and 40 per cent loss in the other.
“He used to struggle with learning but unfortunately the hearing tests we did earlier didn’t pick up on anything,” she says.
Michelle says Joshua wasn’t engaged in school as he found it difficult to pick up things and missed out on social cues.
“He would miss out on the tone of the voice when he was little.
“He couldn’t recognise if someone was being annoyed with him. Often it is the tone you use that gives an indication of what you mean.”
While the hearing aids make a huge difference, there are still times when Joshua can mishear things if there are other conversations happening simultaneously, says Michelle.
“People make a mistake thinking just because he has hearing aids he can hear everything. But what they don’t realise is that there can be a lot of interruptions.
“It’s important that people be more patient with those with a hearing loss and spend more time with them.
“There needs to be clarity. You need to confirm that they have heard it right,” she says speaking out of experience.
Michelle strongly recommends that people with a hearing impairment should wear hearing aids even though I realise the cost is quite high.
“Fortunately it is funded, there are government subsidies available for under-18 and there are cheaper options available too,” she says.
“However once they leave school there are less subsidies which can be difficult for people who are not working.”
Thirteen-year-old Joshua says his advice to other children with a hearing problem is, “If you can’t hear, use your other senses. Also, don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat themselves if you haven’t heard properly.”
He says he is thrilled that the National Foundation for the Deaf is creating awareness by hosting the Silent Leadership Challenge which he hopes his class will participate in.
“It will be great if my class does the muffled challenge with hearing protectors and can experience what it feels like.
“Though I don’t think my teacher will like it with a roomful of me,” he says.
To enable him to hear better in the classroom, Joshua uses the Frequency Modular System with a Roger Pen. It allows the teacher to speak into the pen, a wireless microphone that transmits the sound straight into Joshua’s hearing aid—bypassing noise and distance.
He also thinks that learning martial arts from the age of six has been a big positive.
“Being a Brown Belt has heightened my state of awareness. With martial arts I don’t have to worry about hearing. I know I am safe and have something to protect me.”
A special message he has for Times readers is: “I want people to remember that we are not different. We are just like them.”