Emily

When Emily Hewlings was an infant, her family suspected very early on that she had a hearing loss. “We had a couple of pretty loud dogs,” said her father, David, “and Emily would never wake up when they barked.”

When Emily was 10 weeks old, a series of hearing tests revealed a profound hearing loss. “I spent a few days trying to figure out, ‘how did this happen?’” says David of his reaction to Emily’s diagnosis. “But it didn’t take me long to realize that wouldn’t do Emily any good, and we needed to focus our energy on getting her what she needed.”

Emily began wearing hearing aids and receiving speech and language services near the family’s home in suburban Philadelphia. Emily received a cochlear implant when she was two, and did well in developing her listening and spoken language skills throughout her early childhood. But when Emily was about nine years old, her family felt that she needed something more. “Emily had always been a fiercely independent child, and when she went into third grade, we started to see that quality in her diminishing,” says David. “We wanted to find a school environment for Emily where she could build confidence in herself.”

Clarke had made a strong impression on David and his wife Linda years before. “When we first learned Emily was deaf, we wrote to just about every school in the country to learn what we could about educational options for the future. Dennis Gjerdingen, who was Clarke’s President at the time, wrote us a very personal, caring reply, which really stood out from other responses we received. That always stayed in our heads, that Clarke seemed like a special place.”

When the Hewlings visited Clarke in Northampton, those feelings were confirmed. “It was clear to us almost right away that this was the right place for Emily and for us,” says David. So David, Linda, Emily and their younger daughter, Leah, moved to Western Massachusetts so Emily could attend Clarke. Emily thrived at Clarke, building self-confidence through activities like creative writing and theatre, and strengthening her communication and interpersonal skills. “The Clarke staff was so insightful in terms of what Emily needed,” says David. “And over time you could see her filling in the gaps of what she didn’t understand.”

Emily attended Clarke through eighth grade, then went on to attend a private high school. She is now a junior majoring in English at a small liberal arts college and is currently enjoying a semester abroad in London. Emily received the 2013 Cochlear Graeme Clark Scholarship honoring outstanding young adults using cochlear implants.

“She’s very comfortable with who she is and has a great group of friends,” says David. “She knows what she can accomplish and is determined to succeed.”

In 2013, Emily was invited back to Clarke as the commencement speaker and addressed a group of graduating eighth graders with these words of advice. “Your hearing loss doesn’t make up who you are as a person. It’s only a part of you, something that makes you truly unique. When you’re confident, you stand out not because you’re ‘different’ but because people recognize your confidence. It’s okay to be afraid and feel apprehensive. What matters is what you do about that fear. If you throw yourself out there, do something you thought you never would have done, your life will be a lot more exciting.”

Read the full article about Emily and her family on pages 16 and 17 of the Spring 2015 issue of Clarke Speaks

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