"He’s my hearing dog, my shadow, and my guardian. I feel safe when he is near me."
Posted by Matt Sadler
What’s it like growing up with a language processing disorder as well as hearing loss? For Trinity Rogers, it’s been an enduring struggle, but hearing dog Alvin makes everything easier.
“Alvin is my best friend. I know everyone says that but it’s true. He’s my hearing dog, my shadow, and my guardian. I feel safe when he is near me. If I feel down, I just need to look at Alvin or stroke him and I instantly feel better.”
No-one knows for sure what caused Trinity Rogers’ hearing loss, but it was most likely present from birth. Mild to moderate at first, Trinity, now aged 21, was fitted with hearing aids around the age of two. However, it wasn’t until she was seven that an independent educational assessment revealed she also has a language processing disorder (LPD).
Trinity explains: “My mum noticed that there was something wrong when I started primary school. Because of my hearing loss I had already been given a Statement of Special Educational Need that listed the support I was entitled to for that, but I wasn’t making progress and mum instinctively felt there was still something not quite right.
“She decided to get me a professional assessment with an expert. That’s when we discovered I had a language processing disorder. My school was not supportive. In fact, they refused to recognise it and even questioned the severity of my deafness. This would have a really significant impact on my ability to access education.
“If I’d been given the right support at my primary school my education would not have suffered the way it did. My teachers would regularly refuse to use my support equipment because they were advocates of peer support learning.
“They kept telling me I should ask my friends to explain if there was anything I didn’t understand. But I didn’t have any friends. In fact, I was being bullied relentlessly. This went on for the whole of my primary school unfortunately. I was very isolated at that school.
“My secondary school was completely different. They treated me with respect and really took my deafness and the language processing disorder very seriously. That was a real game-changer.
“Having a language processing disorder basically slows down your understanding of instructions. In education for example I find it harder to take in what I'm being taught.
“I need extra time, especially in exams, because when I’m under pressure or anxious it makes me work slower. I also misunderstand things really easily because of the choice of words people might use, or the way they’ve worded a sentence. That makes it harder to process speech and understand the meaning of what I hear.
“Since the Covid-19 restrictions I’ve been finding online working really tough. Processing language, particularly when you’re deaf as well, is mentally exhausting. Even though there are subtitles available through video meeting platforms, it doesn’t work as it should. They are not accurate and so they just don’t make sense. It’s been incredibly stressful. I actually had a big cry recently because I just felt: ‘I’m done.’.
“I’ve had bilateral cochlear implants since I was 13. These were really successful and made an enormous difference to me. But as a deaf person with LPD, I get tired much quicker because I’m always trying to listen and process what’s been said or work out what's going on around me. I think that's why getting Alvin was really helpful.
“Now he’s here I don't have to stress about my safety. I can mentally switch off background noise and focus better on speech because I know Alvin would tell me if there’s anything important going on.
“He also reminds people that I have a hearing loss. People are more patient and understanding when they see Alvin with me. People who thought I was ignoring them before, now know that actually I'm deaf.
“How my LPD affects me depends on a lot of things; the situation, how I’m feeling, whether I’m already tired, also the environment, who I'm with, and what I'm doing.
“I used to get stressed and angry, and it would completely ruin my day. Now when I start feeling frustrated and confused about something, I just stroke Alvin and he calms me right down. Just knowing he’s there beside me really does help.
“Sometimes Alvin will notice I’m starting to feel anxious because I fidget with my nails, so he’ll nudge my hands as if to say: ‘It’s OK, I’m here,’ and, as if by magic, this gentle gesture gives me the reassurance I need to feel grounded and safe.”
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