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All About Unilateral Hearing Loss-Episode 48 with Jacquelyn Briggs- All About You

Welcome back to the All About Audiology podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Lilach Saperstein. I’m an audiologist, speaker and parent coach. And on this podcast we talk about the personal, everyday experiences of people connected to audiology. We hear from parents who share their experience of their child having hearing loss. [We also hear] from professionals in various fields with expert advice and wisdom on the everyday challenges and opportunities that we have for communicating and connecting to our children, to our patients, and to our students.

Way back in Episode 18 of the podcast, we had Chloe Tompkins as a guest and she talked about how she incorporates American Sign Language into her music classes in order to make the classes fun and accessible and inclusive for children of all hearing abilities and using different modalities.

And today’s guest is Jacquelyn Briggs. So, Chloe introduced us. And I cannot wait for you to hear Jacquelyn’s inspiring words. She’s also a teacher, and she has a very personal experience with hearing loss to share. And I’m gonna let her tell it.

So, just before I play that amazing interview for you, I want to remind you that you are the most important part of the All About Audiology community, the listeners. Thank you for sharing the show. And thank you for your comments, and your questions. Absolutely come and connect with me over on Instagram and on Facebook. And if you want to be a guest on the show, or nominate a guest on the show, feel free to reach out to me and we will continue to spread hope and self-efficacy and confidence in the world.

So, welcome Jacquelyn, and thank you for listening.

Dr. Lilach Saperstein: “Welcome back to the All About Audiology podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Lilach Saperstein. Music is just one of those amazing things that we all enjoy in our life that we have as part of our experience. And today I’d like to dive in to music and how we can use music when we’re educating deaf and hard of hearing children. And my special guest today is Jacquelyn Briggs, who is a music teacher and a teacher of the deaf at the Clark School for the Deaf in New York, and Jacquelyn is going to share her personal story with hearing loss as well. So, welcome to the show, Jacquelyn, how are you?”

Jacquelyn Briggs: “Great. Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.”

LS: “I’m so excited for you to share your story and come on the show. And first of all, to give a quick background to how we’ve connected is that way back in Episode 18 of the podcast, we had a very wonderful guest Chloe Tompkins, and she also is doing music education and also shared her journey with hearing loss. And that’s how I connected with Jacquelyn. So, go and listen to Episode 18 to hear Chloe’s story, but I’m so excited to learn more about your journey. Where do you want to start?”

JB: “There’s so many things we could start with. I mean, I met Chloe probably two years ago, I can’t remember now at a deaf music event. That’s how we met. We were involved in a performance together and she is just an absolutely wonderful person and introduced me to your podcast, so it’s very exciting.”

LS: “Well, first of all, what’s going on with schooling? You know, like how has COVID impacted everything in your life? Like let’s just start there because that’s what your mind is on, the disaster that is 2020.”

JB: “I don’t even have a word to describe it. I’m like sitting here thinking to say, it’s been an adventure. It’s definitely been an adventure to say the least for us. Schools closed March 16. And it’s been a little challenging because it was a Sunday evening and suddenly we all found ourselves having to figure out how to teach students with hearing loss through online platforms, which presented a lot of different difficulties. But you know, we did well, we managed, we all learned different tricks and started putting stuff together. We are doing our summer sessions still online.”

LS: “What age students do you teach?”

JB: “Preschool. My students come out of EI typically and they come into Clark and I have an integrated class and they are three and four years old.”

LS: “That’s amazing. And what’s the approach, the communication approach at Clark?”

JB: “It’s an auditory verbal [approach]. We take a lot of listening and spoken language strategies into the classroom.”

LS: “Okay. And so, for those listeners who are not familiar with terms, would you just give us a little rundown of what that means?”

JB: “We use listening and spoken language strategies to help children that have hearing loss, that use listening technologies, such as hearing aids or cochlear implants or BAHAs to learn to listen and speak. That is our goal. And we have at Clark, New York, they have early intervention programs and they have classrooms for preschool and the idea is, you know, they would go to kindergarten when they’re ready, when the time is right.”

LS: “All students, it’s very important that they always have their devices on and everything is working because you’re primarily using auditory and spoken modalities as opposed to signing for everybody, the uninitiated of what the different approaches are. Besides for teaching your adorable preschoolers, you also incorporate tons of music.”

JB: “I use music in everything that I do. I use music for routines, I use music for transitions, we use music when we are asking questions even. Because we’ve found that using music through songs and you know finger movements and gross motor, large movements, we help them learn to develop speech patterns. So, they start talking with different intonation, they start raising their voice at the end of a question like, ‘What are you doing?’ They’re picking up on natural speech patterns, and we incorporate it through music. So, we do a lot of call and response, we’ll do a lot of conversational turns. Recently, I found that a lot of my students want to sing on their own, which is really funny to have that happen through zoom instead of having that happen in person. And so, we give them opportunities. We have different routines on set, they’ll sing. And I’ll give the option and I’ll say, ‘Does anybody want to sing?’ And we have almost the whole class that will raise their hands. It’s really exciting.”

LS: “How many kids do you have?”

JB: “I had eight. I currently have five for my summer term.”

LS: “So, that’s a nice group. They have enough interaction and also attention. That’s a beautiful ratio. Nice.

A couple of episodes back, we had Michelle Riddle on the show who’s an occupational therapist, and she talked a lot about integrating movement of your body and rhythm, and hearing and how when you’re using more than one modality at once, it’s way better for following directions and supporting the development of all those different areas. So, that’s amazing that you use that with the kids. So, when you moved over to zoom, how do you manage that without everyone jumping out of their chairs?”

JB: “Oh my goodness. Well, I started doing my own daily music class. Before when we were in the classroom, I just did music in everything that I did and I still did that when we were on zoom. But when the platform switched, it made it harder to make everything seamless. I couldn’t just, you know, do transitions with a song as easily as I had in the classroom. I still did them, but they served a different purpose. I started doing a music class through zoom every day, I do a music class with my students. And we do a lot of different songs. So, we do a lot of songs where we are up and moving and dancing around, I do a free dance. And for me, it’s a little bit more performance based. I can’t interact with them as I would have typically, you know, because then zooms microphone doesn’t react as well. And then you get everybody that’s talking over each other.

So, for me, it’s a little bit more performance based, but I do ask them a lot of questions and I’ll forget the words of a song and ask them to sing it or I’ll sing the wrong words and I’ll ask them to correct it. And they do it almost always, they correct everything that I do wrong, which is really exciting for me. But I do a lot of large movement with them. And so, we’ll do like the Hokey Pokey, we’ll do songs that have large movement incorporated into them. So, there’s a goldfish song that we do, and we pretend that we’re goldfish and we’re swimming. And we do a free dance, so I’ll pick a different song daily and we just dance around on zoom together. So, we have like, a big dance party and it’s a lot of fun actually.”

LS: “Dance party every day. Everyone needs to incorporate that into their daily routine at all ages. Yes.”

JB: “It’s a lot of fun. I have to tell you, it’s one of the highlights of my day. It used to make me so nervous to do it on zoom, but then it just became like, I love it. I look forward to it every day.”

LS: “Okay, so now, I’d love to hear a little bit about your background and how you got interested in that.”

JB: “I grew up in a very musical family. Both of my parents are music teachers. When I was a little girl, the only thing I ever wanted to do was sing. And so, I was singing from a very young age. I sang all through elementary school, middle school and high school. When I was a junior in high school and was preparing to do my college auditions the following fall, I was in a car accident. I was in a car accident at the end of my junior year. I was a passenger in a car that was T-boned on the right hand side and the other car hit my seat and I lost my hearing. I lost the hearing in my right ear. Yeah, my life changed instantly. And at the time, to sort of put it in perspective, I was so badly injured, that the hearing loss was not a priority. It was minor compared to some of the other injuries that I had sustained.”

LS: “So, you were in this accident, you guys T-boned directly into where you were sitting, the passenger seat on the right side of the car.”

JB: “Yes.”

LS: “Okay. In America, right? The side passenger seat. And so, what was the extent of your injuries if you don’t mind sharing that and what was that process like? You said instantaneous. Were you still conscious? Do you mind talking about that?”

JB: “Absolutely not. So, I was knocked unconscious. I actually came to at some point after the accident and then blacked out again. I don’t have much recollection of what happened at the actual scene. But I know that the EMTs were having a hard time getting me out of the car because my feet, my legs were just stuck under the dashboard. They just had a hard time getting me out. We did not know the full extent of my injuries until they started running tests and after the tests started to come back, I had extensive injuries to the right side of my body. So, I had broken my right clavicle, I had six broken ribs. I had two punctured lungs. I had breaks in my pelvis and my tailbone, you name it. At the time they thought that I had a skull fracture. I found out almost a decade later that wasn’t exactly the case.

Yeah, significant injuries. They weren’t really sure if I was going to walk, so I was scheduled to go in for this huge surgery where they were going to put a screw through my tailbone and I witnessed a miracle I think because the day before that surgery was scheduled, I was able to sort of sit up in a chair under some pain management. And my doctor said, ‘Well, if she can sit up, then we’re not going to do the surgery.’ So I definitely witnessed a miracle there because I’m walking again. I walked about six or seven weeks after my car accident. We weren’t sure when it originally happened if I would walk. So many crazy things. I witnessed many, many miracles, many, many miracles of healing. And so, my journey just continues.”

LS: “I have chills running down my spine. That is, oh my gosh, an unbelievable experience. And you were in high school.”

JB: “Yeah, I was 17.”

LS: “Yeah. And at what point was the hearing you know, something that you noticed or addressed?”

JB: “I have a memory of telling my doctor that I could not hear out of my right ear and I was in the emergency room. I don’t remember what was said. I know that I went for quite a few scans after that. They were running some CAT scans on my head.”

LS: “It wasn’t the most important of stuff. Not the highest priority. But what I’m saying is was it within a couple of weeks that you had other testing or was it like way later after all the other things, and PT for more important things?”

JB: “My timeline is a little off. I was still in the hospital when they started running scans because they were looking for a concussion and for injuries on my head, too. So, they were scanning, but it was sort of inconclusive at that point that hearing loss was diagnosed because they were kind of thinking it was going to come back. And then they had run an MRI and the doctor and the lab tech couldn’t agree. He wasn’t a lab tech. I shouldn’t say that. But the doctor and there’s somebody else involved, couldn’t agree on whether or not I had a skull fracture. And so, they sort of went back and forth on, ‘She does have a skull fracture. She doesn’t have a skull fracture.’ And so, initially, they diagnosed it as I had sustained a skull fracture behind my right ear essentially. And fluid in the cochlea drained and the hair cells went flat. That’s what they were saying.”

LS: “The temporal bone that houses our cochlea. It was definitely sensorineural. Okay, what happened next?”

JB: “What happened next is after I got home and I started walking again, I was in multiple kinds of therapies, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and I decided that I was going to try music therapy. I remember being in the hospital and my parents were really pushing for the ENT at the hospital to look at my ear and he was very passive about it. And they kept saying, ‘You don’t understand. She’s a singer. She’s a singer, please look at her ears.’ And basically the answer we got was well, ‘Do something else.’ And so, I decided after I got out of the hospital, it was my senior year. I went through my senior doing music therapy at Beth Israel Hospital in New York City. There’s a Louis Armstrong foundation for music therapy, I believe, and I had a music therapist there that I saw and worked with for that year, and she was phenomenal. And then I graduated high school, graduated late but I graduated high school and decided to go to my community college.

I was like dabbling, I was like, I’m going to try and be a music major, but in the back of my head, I was thinking at some point I’m gonna have to switch majors because this isn’t gonna work. And two years later, I graduated as a music major and I had been accepted to a four year school for a Vocal Performance degree in New Jersey and I finished my degree there. And I had always sort of, through my own process of learning how to sing suddenly without one ear working, I was going through the process of figuring out what that meant for me. How do I sing now when I only have one typically hearing ear? How do I adjust to my new normal?

So, I took voice lessons and I kept studying all through college and obviously graduated with my Vocal Performance Degree but I got really intrigued in the overlap that exists between music and deaf education. This was like super intriguing to me. And I started teaching early childhood music together classes. I had gone and gotten a certification for music together and started teaching these kids. They were like two and three years old and I absolutely loved it. It was one of my one of my favorite things, and I decided I was gonna start looking for graduate programs.”

LS: “You just wanted the dance parties. That’s really what it is.”

JB: “Yeah, I wanted the dance parties, you got it. So, I started looking at graduate programs and I applied to Teachers College Columbia University in New York. And when I was in there, like checking out the program for music education, I realized that I could do this interdisciplinary Masters in music and deaf ed. So, I was like, well, that’s really interesting. I’m really gonna look at this program. So, I applied to the music education program, I wrote in my statement of purpose, I want to do an interdisciplinary masters program. And so, I ended up doing that. I did two masters in three years.”

LS: “Okay. And so, one in music therapy and one in Deaf Ed.”

JB: “It’s a music ed degree. So, I have a music ed degree and then one in deaf education.”

LS: “At this point, in relation to the fact that you lost your hearing in your right ear, was it something you had accepted? Were you still like, kind of unsure if it was gonna be permanent, like where were you in that stage?”

JB: “What a loaded question. There was a part of me that was significantly in denial for a very, for a few years, I would say. Because it’s hard, you know, you live your life one way and suddenly it is so different and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. And I hadn’t done anything for that change (to happen) to begin with. I was just sitting in the wrong place, at the wrong time. It was very hard to come to terms with that, but at the same time, I learned that I was going to be okay anyway. I was still learning how to sing. I was learning to use my body as an ear. I was learning to feel vibrations and feel things differently. And I was still learning to sort of make up for what I viewed as this deficit. I know much better now. But at the time when I was navigating this, to me it seemed like something that was going to hold me back and I learned much differently because of everything that I’ve managed to accomplish anyway.”

LS: “Did you ever have audiologists or other people offering all sorts of devices like CROS hearing aid or mini mics? At what point were people trying to offer you treatments or were you looking for that? Didn’t you have that happen?”

JB: “That was offered to me at the beginning when I was still in the hospital. I was in a rehabilitation hospital you know, working on my physical needs at that time and there was an audiologist that was offering me a BAHA. We chose at that time not to do it just because there was so much else going on that we weren’t sure at that particular moment that the BAHA was the right fit. I wasn’t offered a CROS hearing aid until much later. But once I left the hospital, with my hearing loss, I just was like okay, this is it. And I was the one that never sought out another audiologist to see what my other options would be.”

LS: “Can you tell us a little bit about the experience, especially from someone who grew up hearing in both ears, typically hearing and then had this very dramatic change to having only one sided hearing? Because many of the parents who are listening to this, you know, talk about how a child who is born with one typical ear, unilateral hearing loss or asymmetrical hearing loss, and I think you are in an exact position to try to describe what that was like, especially knowing that it was different before.”

JB: “I think I had a lot of misconceptions about myself because things I heard were things like you have one good ear, you’ll be fine. And I know a lot differently now. But it was really hard to navigate because, especially when I was in college, I was failing things. I was failing classes because, you know, I didn’t have the access to the information that I needed. I didn’t have captions. I didn’t have anything that was helping me and this hearing loss was so new at the time. And so, I can remember studying for exams, and not having a clue when we talked about information that was on the exam, like I just missed it entirely. And also, if you go back and look at my notes from that time, I have like the first half of one thought paired with the second half of a completely different thought. And I really did try. There were moments where I felt like there has to be something wrong with me, like, I’m not smart, I’m not intelligent. I can’t take tests well. I always blamed myself, like there was something wrong with me in the way that I think.

Even with that in mind, I was able to graduate with a 3.7 GPA. So, I worked really, really hard for it though. And then when I went to grad school, I was accepted at teacher’s college and I did the two masters in three years. And it wasn’t until I started my Deaf Ed masters that I started to learn, this was two years ago, that I started to learn about myself and I started to learn that there’s nothing wrong with me. I just didn’t have access to the information. I didn’t have the kinds of things that I needed so that I can be successful. And once I had a captionist with me in class, it TOTALLY changed my world around. Suddenly, I was able to participate in conversations when before, I was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t want to talk because I’m afraid I’m gonna say something that’s irrelevant to the conversation.’ “

LS: “Tell us what you said, what you finally had access to.”

JB: “Oh, I had a captionist.”

LS: “Okay, yeah. Okay, so now you’re really following what’s happening. There’s been a shift in the whole conversation around unilateral hearing loss, whereas before it was exactly that misconception that one ear is good enough, you know. At least you have one.”

JB: “Right.”

LS: “As an aside, any sentence that starts with “at least” is not going to end well. Stop minimizing people and don’t bring up things that are not relevant. Just as a, you know, in general in the grief process, if people are sad or grieving something important, whether or not it’s a death or something they’ve lost that’s not a person but other grief in lots of different ways. Don’t say at least. Anyway, validation is more important.

But back to the unilateral hearing, it’s only been I think, in probably the last seven to ten years, there has been so much research that says, ‘No, no. Children with one ear do really, really great when we help their other ear hear in other ways. What you’re missing is that sound processing, background noise reduction, all these things that our brain does with the sounds when we have two ears.’ It’s kind of like if you have two microphones in a system, like in your phone. You actually have two microphones there and the software and hardware is doing a lot of things so that it will background noise filter stuff that’s coming from behind the phone. So, you hear like things from how it’s catchy, like when you go from speaker to not speaker, whatever, like through the phone and to the speaker. Like there’s a lot of different things even just in your cell phone of like all this microphone technology.

Anyway, that’s an analogy to what our brains do when we have input from two sides, a lot of processing happens with that crossover of those pathways for things that were redundant, there’s a difference in time. Like if someone’s on your left, the sound reaches your left ear faster than it reaches your right ear. And that time delay, even though it’s micro milliseconds, or I don’t know the exact word, what the actual difference is, is that time difference is super critical information. It also is louder to the ear that is closer. So, there’s a level difference. We have all these different things, inter-oral time difference, inter-oral level difference, that’s some technical language for you. But anyway, it is amazing to see how hard you had to work to compensate, how exhausting that must have been. And on top of all that, you you know, had internalized that as being your own ineptitude, whatever, internalizing that as being your fault, or that you weren’t trying hard enough. I’m so sorry that happened, but I’m also so happy that you can now talk about it. And then you got help. What happened next?”

JB: “While I was working on my Deaf Ed masters, I started with some summer courses in the summer of 2018. So, I graduated with my first masters and three days later, essentially, like officially started my second even though I had done one or two classes prior to that. And I was in this class about auditory verbal therapy and language rehabilitation, and I loved my professor. She was so passionate about her work and and everything that she did. And so, she started talking about like cochlear implants. And I mean, these are all things that I knew, but for some reason, I didn’t really understand how they applied to me.

And so, she and I were talking about cochlear implants one day and she said, ‘Well, you know, you have a sensorineural hearing loss, you can benefit from a cochlear implant. That’s something you should have a look at.’ And I was really like, hands off about it. I was like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ But what I wanted was to be able to have a captionist in school, like to have somebody that came to my classes with me, but I hadn’t had an audiogram in close to ten years, so I needed an updated audiogram. So, I contacted somebody at Columbia medical, and I went in for my first audiogram. And in a long time, nothing had changed. That right ear still had, it’s a profound loss. I think it was, I was up over 120 decibels and didn’t respond to anything in that ear. So, it’s a profound loss, very profound.

And I started thinking about the possibilities of like, maybe I can get a CROS hearing aid. And so, I was struggling with some vertigo at the time, some very weird vertigo that was leaving me unable to work for multiple days at a time. And so, I went from the audiologist and I made an appointment with one of the otolaryngologist at Columbia and I waited two months to see him. And so, when we went in, and we were talking to him about a few different options like the CROS hearing aid, and so we were talking about what the vertigo was. So, he scheduled me for some scans on my head to show what my possibilities were for either a BAHA or maybe a cochlear implant or just what the possibilities would be for any kind of hearing device that I could have.

So, I went in for that on Halloween of this past year, was Halloween 2018. And we went in for these scans fully expecting to hear that the auditory nerve had been severed, that I had a skull fracture there that I wasn’t going to be a candidate for any of these things, because that’s what we had been told. So, I go through all of these scans and go into the doctor’s office and my father had come with me that day. And so, we’re sitting there and the doctor says, ‘Okay, your scans are completely clear.’ And my father goes, ‘Oh, so you mean the skull fracture healed?’ And the doctor says, ‘No, you never had one.’ So, we were like, stunned, we’re sitting there thinking, like, what does this mean? I don’t understand. And so, I mean, obviously, I took a shot to the head in the car accident, you know, but there was no skull fracture, like the inner ear was totally intact.

And so, I went from having no options to suddenly having multiple options. I could get a BAHA, I could get a cochlear implant, you know. The cochlear implant was, we weren’t sure because it’s not totally common to see somebody with a unilateral hearing loss with one implant. At least in my experience, I haven’t seen that many people with a unilateral hearing loss end up with a cochlear implant. In my case, they fought for the cochlear implant because of the tinnitus that I had in my right ear, because the cochlear implants tend to stop the tinnitus. And so, that was on October 2018. On December 22, I was implanted and then activated January 18th. So I’ve been active for about a year and a half. Yeah, it’s been one of the craziest experiences, I think, to be typically hearing in both ears, then to suffer a hearing loss in one ear and to then have a cochlear implant. I don’t have words. Haha.”

LS: “Yeah, that’s definitely a unique journey for sure. It’s not something that people hear a lot about, the hearing loss that is acquired, you know, as opposed to from birth, when there are traumatic injuries. Did you have, did you end up having any concussion or brain related injuries?”

JB: “Well, I did. I had, I suffered from a traumatic brain injury. Actually the vertigo that I was struggling from were diagnosed as migraines from that car accident, from the TBI that I suffered. I would not have said that because I never thought about it. So, I take care of those differently now. But I even went back and read the original reports from the first couple of scans that they did on my head and they list a skull fracture and and where it was, so I really don’t know what happened. I mean, I know when we did the current scans before my surgery, like before I found out that I could go for a cochlear implant. And then when we went for the surgery, we even asked the doctor, ‘Could you see what happened? Did you see anything?’ And all he could say was, ‘Well, she obviously took a shot to the head, really hard to tell.’ “

LS: “Definitely strange. What was it like when you were activated? I know that’s a question a lot of parents have when they have a young child and they go through this whole journey with them and their kid can’t really tell them what it’s like.”

JB: “It was really emotional for me. I have a video of when it was first turned on and my audiologist played like little pulses in the ear. You know, we were sort of mapping it out. And she told me to raise my hand when I could hear the pulses. And I was so hesitant to raise my hand because I was terrified that I was actually hearing something in my left ear that was crossing over. So, I like raised my hand. She was like, ‘You’re right. That’s the first time you’ve heard anything on that side in a long time.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s been ten years.’ So, it’s emotional.

And then when we went live, and the implant went live, my dad started talking to me, and I started to cry because it was a realization that, you know, for ten years, I believed something, I believed something one way and then it was completely different. In fact, the audiologist was saying to me that they weren’t sure if the auditory nerve would respond because it had been so long since any sound had hit that cochlea. So, when they tested it during my surgery, they were saying we weren’t really sure what to expect. And the amount of response that they got from the auditory nerve in the surgery, everybody was shocked.

And so, when it went live, when the implant went live, I was sitting in the audiologist office and I started to cry because of the realization that, you know, you just never know. Everything about my life changed once and then it changed all over again. You know, right when I started feeling confident in who I was and the things that made me who I was or who I am, you know, it changed again. When I first started hearing people talk, it sounded a little bit like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings. That’s the best way I can think to describe it. It was like kind of whispery, kind of raspy.

The first few days I had it, it actually made me a little nauseous because suddenly I was getting so much input on that side. I adjusted to it now. I practice a lot, so I’ll stream podcasts to my implant to practice. I can answer the phone with my cochlear implant. So, a lot of times I’ll tell people, ‘Just be patient. I’m practicing. I’m talking into my implant. I’m working my right ear.’ It’s been challenging, but it’s been absolutely worth it, especially with the kids that I work with. And they’re so brave, all of them are so brave. And they remind me every day how brave I can be just by watching them. And they teach me every day about different things, you know, different things that they hear, different things that they think. And it just reminds me that there’s never a point where we stop learning, there’s never a point where we’ve just arrived and things are over and we have nothing else to do. We’re always learning. There’s always more to do. And so, this is just another step forward.”

LS: “That is incredible. I did also just want to add a disclaimer, you know, that every single person in every case is going to be so unique. Like you said about your auditory nerve, that that was intact and that you were so successful just right in the beginning. You were able to hear the sounds. But not all activations go that way. Everyone has a different anatomy and everyone has different sets of circumstances that make them more or less a candidate for “success” with the Cochlear implant.

But what an incredible journey, and I love also hearing your attitude and knowing that you really do see every step as part of a journey. Because, you know, when it’s over, then that means there’s no more life left. So, it’s a good thing to be on a journey of life. And the kids you work with, you know, you have a very special connection to their experience in a way that’s really moving. I can’t imagine, you know, what it is to be a kid and look at your teacher who has the same device or, you know, same experience of certain things as you. That’s really moving.”

JB: “We talk about it all the time. I have some students that, you know, they use BAHAs, and so, you know, we talk to them about how it’s our superpower. You know, some people wear glasses, some people have different colored hair, some people have whatever it is that makes them who they are. This is ours and it’s our superpower. I love that I can connect with them in that way. And it also has helped me in talking to parents too, because they do have a lot of questions. And there’s a lot of people that will say, you know, what did you hear? How did it go when this was turned on? How do you hear with it now?

Because it never occurred to me, even with professionals in the field, right, it never occurred to me that some of the professionals that I work with, have never heard through a cochlear implant before. Like they wouldn’t necessarily understand what that means, because they don’t have a cochlear implant. So, I remember talking to a few people that I had interned with and they were like, what does it sound like? And it kind of just made me laugh because those are things I never thought about. And so, it’s helped me be able to talk to people about different aspects of this field, of this wonderful, crazy field that we’re in because people have questions, they want to be able to connect, these people need different kinds of supports.”

LS: “Exactly, and that’s why I’m so grateful that you came on the show to share your story and share so much hope or what’s possible. And at the same time, I’m wondering what your thoughts are, you know, on students who might not be candidates for auditory oral, auditory verbal approach. And you know, because there’s this big question about do we introduce sign language when we’re really trying to promote auditory verbal usage of devices and you know, to try to make the brain a hearing brain? What are some of your thoughts on that when parents are in that decision, because they don’t know how it’s gonna go when they have a tiny kiddo and they have to make certain decisions?”

JB: “I’m always a huge proponent for sign language. I love it. I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s beautiful. I think for young children, the biggest, sort of the biggest milestone, needs to be in my opinion, giving them access to language, right. So, I think if you incorporate signing, it’s never going to take away from learning, to listen and speak, is only gonna add to it. And so, if you have somebody who was taking a little bit more time or is unsure about how their child will do as they are learning to listen and speak, I think that sign language would be a major help and if your goal is to listen and speak, then that’s your goal. Like that’s an amazing goal. And your goal can also be to learn to sign as well. It’s just as wonderful and just as amazing.

We just want to give kids the ability to communicate and have language to have access to language. And so, I, my pedestal is through any means necessary. So, if that means that that child is signing and talking, whatever they need so that they can be able to communicate and what other forms that they can, is my goal.”

LS: “That’s exactly it. I’m glad you mentioned that. Language is the goal rather than speech. Language has different modalities. Yes, it’s really, really amazing how much the technology has advanced and what people are able to achieve. My question to you now is, do you sing?”

JB: “I do. I still sing all the time. About, oh my goodness I don’t even remember, maybe two or three years ago I was able to perform in an opera program in Italy. So, I was able to go there and I studied for three weeks and I performed at the end of three weeks. I still perform for these deaf music events. So, we just did one on zoom in April and I haven’t sung as much because of all the quarantines and the pandemics and everything but I still actively sing. And I love it. I love to perform and it’s just another piece of the puzzle.”

LS: “Yeah. Do you find that when you sing you necessarily have your implant on? Do you have your implant on basically all waking hours? What’s your usage like?”

JB: “Yeah, I wear my implant all waking hours. I go back and forth when I sing because I’m still trying to figure out what that’s like. And I’m still sort of trying to adjust it, is what I should say. I don’t get any pitch information from my implant. I can’t really pick up a pitch but I’m starting to be able to do that. But they are guesses at best, I’m not positive. I don’t hear something, I think okay, I know for certain that if I sing this note, it’s going to match what I actually heard. But I get the pitch information from my left ear, but when I sing, I feel so much more. You know, when you’re singing, your body vibrates. And because you have the resonance that happens even when you talk, right, because your vocal cords vibrate, and I feel that so much differently. And so, it’s helped me navigate different parts of my voice, like the higher parts versus the lower parts of my voice and that’s really exciting.

And so, when I’m singing, I play around with whether or not I’m wearing it. For the most part I do because I want to be able, like I want my students to see me go out on stage or wherever, but to see me go sing with this implant on. I don’t want them to feel like, ‘Oh well, Miss Jacquelyn didn’t wear hers. I don’t have to wear mine.” I want them to be proud of that part of themselves and to sing or create music in any way with this wonderful thing that makes them who they are, this unique part of themselves. So, I’m trying to figure out what that means for myself still. I wear my implant all the time. Like I said, I stream to it. I answer my phone with it. I play different apps with it, play podcasts, I do some of the music apps from cochlear. So, yeah, I wear it all the time.”

LS: “That was awesome. All right. So, we have in the All About Audiology community, we have parents of children with hearing loss, people who are studying audiology and lots of related professionals also who listen to the show. And if you can give some advice to our listeners, you can address any of those groups or all of them, what would be some of your wisdom to share it with everyone?”

JB: “Well, the one thing that I always tell myself is to just keep going. You know, the one thing that I always look for, is regardless of what’s happening, is to continue moving forward, whatever that means for you. If that means going to class one day, then you’re moving forward and going to class one day. If that means that you’re just getting through a day, you know, just keep moving.

The second thing that I always tell myself is not to be afraid to fail. I’ve got plenty of failure stories and plenty of fell on my backside stories where it really took me a while to get myself back up. But at the end of the day, for me, it was all about making sure that I could get back up and I could keep going. And I think a lot of my story, a lot of the journey that I’ve been on has happened because I had something that totally knocked me off my feet and I found a way to stand up and keep going.

It’s not easy. I don’t want you to think that I was like, ‘Okay, I’m ready to go. Like, moving on. These were things that took years of my life. You know, you’re talking about my hearing loss journey, it was eleven years that I lost my hearing this past May. Eleven years and my implant I’ve only had for a year and a half. So, these journeys and adventures that we’re on in life, you know, these things take time. But I would always say, if what you’re doing makes you happy, do what you do because you love to, for no other reason. And you always find a way to keep moving forward.”

LS: “Yes, just keep swimming. Hahaha.”

JB: “Yeah, like your songs.”

LS: “Oh my goodness, thank you so much for sharing your story. And if listeners want to reach out to you, where can they find you?”

JB: “You can find me on Facebook, Jacquelyn Briggs. It’s a little bit of a different spelling, so you can find me on Facebook and my email if anybody wants to reach out through email too. So, I can say that if that’s helpful.”

LS: “We can put that in the show notes. I am so, so grateful. Thank you again.”

And thank you to all the listeners of the All About Audiology podcast. I can’t wait to hear your comments or thoughts about our conversation today. And you can send me a DM on Instagram or through Facebook at All About Audiology podcast.

I’m Dr. Lilach Saperstein and this is the All About Audiology podcast.

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