Alison Winstanley has a way with words.
It is that talent with words that has earned her a plethora of speech and drama trophies and awards.
What makes her success even more impressive is that the 16-year-old is profoundly deaf in both ears.
Her hearing loss was diagnosed in August 2002 when she was 14 months old. She had hearing aids until she received a cochlear implant in her right ear when she was 18 months old and in her left ear in when she was 4 years old.
Within 12 months of the first implant being switched on Alison “was talking and understanding as an age-appropriate child with normal hearing”, says Alison’s mum Di.
However, adjusting to the second implant required some persistence. Di says the noise was quite painful because Alison’s ear wasn’t used to it.
“But it was worth persisting with.”
Alison came to The Hearing House for auditory-verbal therapy which taught her to listen and speak and says she remembers “playing with toys”.
“Because I was so young I didn’t realise I was going to therapy. To me, I was going there to play.”
Di says because therapy was play-based it was easy to integrate into family life with Alison’s dad Brett and her three older brothers.
By the time Alison started primary school at the age of 5, her language level was at that of a seven-year-old.
“She’s a high achiever, but it wasn’t all plain sailing,” Di says. “We would have spent three months teaching her to say S.”
Alison also had to contend with undergoing 15 operations, related to a benign tumour in her left ear and her cochlear implant surgeries, by the time she was 12 years old.
Di says the transition from The Hearing House to mainstream school was “interesting”.
“When you are going to The Hearing House you are secure, but your fear is what will happen when you leave there,” Di says.
But the family needn’t have worried – Alison adapted well to school life and quickly developed a love for speech and drama.
She has been entering regional competitions since she was 10 years old and says her favourite genre is portraying Victorian characters.
Alison, a student at Glendowie College, says a particular highlight was when she was 14 and entered a competition for 14 to 16-year-olds and won.
“She’s just judged like everyone else,” Di says.
Alison says throughout her education so far, she has never found that her hearing was hindering her ability to learn.
“I have found that I can do it because I have been taught over the years to listen.
“I definitely don’t see myself as a deaf person. I know in my mind that I am deaf. But I don’t think of myself as deaf,” Alison says.
Di, a palliative medicine specialist, agrees and says that although Alison has always been deaf, “I didn’t want her to be seen as deaf”.
“She is not defined by her deafness in the same way I’m not defined by my glasses.
“There is no barrier.”
Alison is still figuring out what career path she wants to take when she leaves school. She is interested in interior design and marketing and says she would quite like to be involved in speaking to large audiences.
“I do know I want to talk to people. I really do enjoy it. There are no nerves – I’ve done public speaking most of my life. I’ve always found it so easy and natural.”
Alison’s exposure to public speaking began at an early age. Her mother was keen to spread the word about The Hearing House and took advantage of a number of opportunities to speak about the charity – and took Alison along with her from the age of two.
Alison has also been actively involved in promoting The Hearing House by taking part in multiple Loud Shirt Day events, even voicing television advertisements for Loud Shirt Day in 2006 not long after she turned 5, and appearing on breakfast television.
The family’s relationship with The Hearing House was cemented even further when Di was invited to join the advisory board as a parent representative and later became the board’s chairwoman.
“I was a parent so it was a fantastic opportunity to give back a little bit for everything that we had been receiving.
“They are an extraordinary group of people. A lot of what they do embodies family values.”
Di spent around seven years on The Hearing House board and since the Winstanley’s became part of The Hearing House family she has seen the organisation grow “from a provider to a leader” in the hearing sector.
Di says Alison’s success with language is “amazing”.
“Her life could have been so different. And the entire life of our family could have been so different. How do you put it into words………seeing children with cochlear implants and hearing them is just so powerful.
“There’s nothing to describe how much we got from it.”
Alison echoes her mum’s thoughts.
“I’m very glad I was given the opportunity [to have cochlear implants]. It is life changing. I can’t imagine what life would be like if it was different.”