COUNTRY LIFE IS GOOD
At the end of a winding red dirt road about an hour outside of the nearest metropolitan area, sits a small farm with a dozen cattle, 22 chickens, two horses, and three fearless little girls. Before and after school, the sisters—Josie, Dacie, and Carlie—take care of their animals. They know how to soothe the horses when they’re nervous and how to talk to the massive cattle to get them moving out of the pasture. When the chores are done, the girls are free to roam the 88 acres and let their imaginations take them where they may.
The girls gather eggs as a daily chore.
Watching from the window of their home, the girls’ parents smile as they chase after the chickens. Their dream of raising confident, joyful children out in the country has come true. But after their second daughter, Dacie, was born with profound hearing loss nine years earlier, they didn’t know if it would be possible to stay on the farm.
Like most parents, Jennie and Dustin were stunned by Dacie’s diagnosis. With no history of hearing loss in their extended family and an older daughter, Josie, with typical hearing, nothing had prepared them for the news. “We didn’t know where to go. We didn’t know what life had in store for us,” said Dustin. “Lots of emotions. Lost would be a good word.” Jennie worried that she had done something wrong during her pregnancy to cause Dacie’s hearing loss.
Her parents weighed Dacie’s communication options. They wanted to give her the freedom to live, play, and take on farm responsibilities like her older sister, Josie. They hoped to find an outcome that would allow them to raise their girls in the country and not require a move to a big city with more resources.
Even though research had proven that Listening and Spoken Language (LSL) helped children with hearing loss learn to listen and speak, it was still a relatively unknown outcome in 2009. “We said to ourselves, ‘OK, LSL looks best,’ but to be totally honest, once we started putting one foot in front of the other, we still didn’t know what life would look like,” said Dustin. To help them envision Dacie’s future, their LSL early interventionist introduced them to families who were six and seven years ahead of them on the journey. Meeting children who were deaf who were speaking, listening and playing just like children with typical hearing gave them the hope to press on.
Soon after diagnosis, Dacie received cochlear implants and the family of four immersed themselves in LSL. Big sister, Josie, even learned how to troubleshoot problems with Dacie’s hearing technology and helped her sister learn to listen and speak.
"WE HAVE THIS BEAUTIFUL CHILD. SHE’S FULL OF SPUNK AND VIGOR AND LIFE AND ENERGY. YOU’D NEVER KNOW THE DIFFERENCE." —Dustin, Dacie and Carlie’s dad
As Dacie thrived with LSL, Jennie continued to wonder where the hearing loss had come from and if she had somehow caused it during pregnancy. In order to find out the cause, they chose to do genetic testing on Dacie. “That’s when we found out that she has Connexin 26,” said Jennie. Connexin 26 is the most common gene mutation that causes hearing loss. “Dustin carries a recessive gene and I carry a recessive gene, and when it comes together, our children have a one in four chance of having hearing loss. … When we decided to have another child, we knew that there was going to be a chance and it was OK with us.”
Jennie and Dustin took the chance with their third daughter, Carlie. When Carlie failed her newborn hearing screening, Jennie and Dustin were prepared. “We had more assurance in choosing LSL,” said Jennie. “We knew it worked and was going to be the path for Carlie as well.” Carlie began wearing hearing aids as a baby and has learned to listen and talk just like her older sisters.
"WHEN WE DECIDED TO HAVE ANOTHER CHILD, WE KNEW THAT THERE WAS GOING TO BE A CHANCE [SHE WOULD HAVE HEARING LOSS] AND IT WAS OK WITH US." —Jennie, Dacie and Carlie’s mom
After their chores are finished for the day, the girls play outside until bedtime. Dacie pretends to be a monster from Scooby Doo, chasing her sisters around the backyard. Carlie loves singing like Ariel from The Little Mermaid at the top of her voice and puts on impromptu performances from the swingset. Dustin taught all his daughters how to rope cattle and they practice on one another. Josie and Dacie are old enough now to take out their horses, Navajo and Josh, for a ride by themselves. Carlie can’t wait to join them.
“Most of the time, I forget that they have hearing loss, except when we’re in bed at night because Dacie has to take her “ears” (cochlear implants) off and we can’t talk,” said big sister, Josie. “Most of the time, they hear better than other kids.” Dacie reads as well as other kids, too. Her favorite stories are mysteries, especially The Boxcar Children.
"DIG IN AND BE YOUR KID’S BEST ADVOCATE." —Dustin, Dacie and Carlie’s dad
The critical window for brain development for listening and spoken language skills is ages 0 to 3 years. “If you put the hard work in with them during these young years, when they’re seven, eight, nine years old, then it’s over, and for the rest of their life, they can walk into any restaurant and order what they want, they can communicate with any adult, they can have any job,” said Dustin. “There’s no difference between them and anyone else. Dig in and be your kid’s best advocate.”