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Pioneering surgery leads to life-long vocation


 Audiologist Nick Jones was born in the early 1990s with profound hearing loss. With no newborn hearing screening to identify his deafness and a high level of responsiveness to expressions, it went unnoticed for 17 months.  


“It was my grandad who realised I might be deaf,” says Nick. 

 

“With my hearing loss, all of the hair cells in my cochlear are dead so they don’t raise when they detect sound.” 


 When the opportunity to receive a cochlear implant arose, his parents faced a big decision based on little evidential success in children and strong opposition from the Deaf community. Until then, only adults had undergone the innovative surgery.  

 

They decided to go ahead with the surgery, and in 1995, three and a half-year-old Nick was among the first children in New Zealand to receive a cochlear implant under the expert care of pioneering surgeon Dr. Bill Baber. 

  

Adapting to life with sound 

 

As soon as his deafness was detected, Nick’s mother, Barbara, began learning NZSL to help him communicate.  

 

“It was his first means of communication,” says Barbara. “It’s been part of his life and part of our family’s life all the way through our journey.” 


 Nick says his knowledge of NZSL before knowing spoken language helped him adapt to communicating with access to sound.  


 He credits a strong support network - at home where he grew up in small-town Otorohanga, within the community, and from The Hearing House - for his success in learning to communicate orally.  


 He says his mum went “the extra mile” to make sure he was doing the best he could in his speech development, setting out numerous homework tasks to help his development.  


 “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the help and support from my whole whānau and the wider community,” says Nick. 

 

Coming home 

 

Nick went on to study architecture in Dunedin, before working and travelling for five years. He came to realise he no longer wanted a career in architecture, and that audiology was his true vocation, and he started studying for a Master’s of Audiology degree at the University of Canterbury in 2021. 


 As part of his thesis, he interned at The Hearing House and worked on his research project looking into the decision-making process around cochlear implantation and support for children and their families and whānau. 

  

He took up a role as an audiologist at The Hearing House at the start of 2023, and his mother said “it feels like Nick has come home.” 

 

Hearing House CEO Dr Claire Green says Nick brings a unique perspective to the team. 

 

“Nick’s passionate about audiology and has a deep understanding of the cochlear implant process and support services,” she says.  

 

“His first-hand experience and knowledge is invaluable, and his zest for life is infectious. He’s a great asset to The Hearing House, and we love having him as part of the team.” 

​ 

In addition to his dedication to audiology, Nick is also an avid sports enthusiast, particularly football, tennis and snowboarding.  

 

Learning and communicating in a bi-modal environment 

 

 

Since the start of this year, Natasha Cloete, Child and Youth manager at Deaf Aotearoa, has been based at The Hearing House two days a week, accompanied by an interpreter.  

 

The team can connect with Natasha on a personal and professional level, practice and learn sign language and see for themselves the benefits of clients, families and whānau learning and communicating in a bi-modal environment. ​ 

 

“We’re fostering a collaboration which we hope will benefit our clients and empower them to make their own choices,” says Dr Green. 

 

“Where it’s appropriate, we’re partnering with Deaf Aotearoa to provide the best possible mix of NZSL services and supports to meet our clients’ individual needs.” 

 

The Hearing House has been partnering with Deaf Aotearoa on the First Signs playgroup for pre-school children for the past year.  It was recently extended to monthly Saturdays and fortnightly Wednesdays due to popular demand.  

   

All activities and teaching are conducted in New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL).   

    

“Our NZSL playgroup is an opportunity for children to learn and use NZSL with Deaf role models.  It’s much more than who’s wearing cochlear implants or hearing aids -- it’s an essential part of language development,” says Natasha. 

 

“For many families, it’s a challenge to find a NZSL-rich environment and the playgroups have provided companionship and a warm and welcoming relationship-building opportunity.” 

  

Dr Claire Green, chief executive of The Hearing House, adds, “The First Signs playgroups have provided our team with an invaluable opportunity to learn more about Deaf culture and improve their sign language skills, and to have the chance to observe our younger clients and their whānau interact using the visual language.”   

 

As an extension of the playgroups, Deaf Aotearoa and The Hearing House have recently launched Youth TOGETHER – Saturdays, a series of events designed for young people to come together and enhance their communication skills.  

 

The first session will be held on Sunday, 5 May at The Hearing House. 

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