A teenager has revealed how he “taught himself to hear again” after suffering hearing loss as a youngster.
Will Moseley-Roberts, from Cardiff, defied those who told him not to aim too high, and is now studying to becoming a doctor.
The 19-year-old from Cardiff started to go deaf when he was just five years old, and struggled to hear lessons at school.
He said that he was “in denial” about his disability, and it wasn’t until he was 15 that he got cochlear implants, Wales Online reports.
He also has mild dyspraxia, a condition which can affect co-ordination and can cause a person to write more slowly.
Will is now a student at the University of St Andrew’s School of Medicine where he recently finished his first-year exams.
He hopes his years of medical appointments for hearing loss, cochlear implant surgery and learning to interpret sounds will help him to recognise the difficult experiences facing patients through his career.
“When I was younger I didn’t want to feel disabled or constrained by my disability,” Will said.
“I think it can be really damaging for disabled children in general with the idea that generally they don’t achieve as well.
“I wanted to study medicine so that I could help other people in other situations of vulnerability, similarly to how I was helped when I was younger.”
Will attended Ysgol Pencae, Ysgol Plasmawr and Howell’s School sixth form in Cardiff where he said he was lucky to receive support but some adults outside school had discouraged him.
“I did have numerous people tell me when I was younger that I shouldn’t aim too high in case I failed due to my disability.
“Thankfully these warnings fell on deaf ears. The belief that other people had in me and the sense that people around me wanted me to succeed gave the confidence to be ambitious.
“I don’t think many deaf children have this confidence that they can do just as well deaf as they could if they weren’t deaf given the right support.”
Will said he was in denial about his deafness until he was in his mid-teens which didn’t help him overcome the issue.
Exhausted from trying to hear at school, he would come home “grey with tiredness” and go to sleep.
“By the time I was 13 I thought of myself as being good at football and not disabled,” he said.
“When I thought about what it meant to be disabled I thought ‘that’s not who I am’. I was a bit in denial about my deafness. That meant I put off having cochlear implants, although I needed them.”
Born with some hearing loss in one ear, Will’s symptoms deteriorated until around the age of five when he woke up one morning almost unable to hear. He was eventually diagnosed with Progressive Bilateral Hearing Loss (PBHL).
Will said he was happy at school and was never bullied for his deafness but it was exhausting straining to hear in lessons and eventually even one-to-one conversations.
He finally agreed to have cochlear implants to help his hearing. These were fitted in the September of his GCSE year. But that had it’s challenges too.
“Cochlear implants create an entirely mechanical sound picked up by electrodes wrapped in my cochlears which simulate sound,” Will said.
“So I don’t hear in my ears anymore. When I first had them switched on what I heard sounded like pots and pans. I realised it was speech and focused on that. The brain re-trains itself to hear sounds as what they are. At first I could not tell the difference between pitch either but after a few months I could. I hear pretty normally now.”
Although he needed the implants Will was still exhausted trying to adjust and had to drop two GCSE subjects so he could recover between lessons. He said he began to feel his struggles with hearing made him “a constant failure”.
When he went on to do his A levels Will received support from Careers Wales adviser Dylan Evans. The teenager said he believes he wouldn’t have got to medical school without it.
“The thing that made me want to become a doctor was I felt very vulnerable when my hearing was bad.” he said.
“After the surgery, which was life changing because I could interact and had so much more energy, I thought I would like to do this for other people.
“I think I am more empathetic than if I had never been deaf. I think it will help me look at things from a patient’s perspective.”
Will was also shocked and angry to learn that deaf children get on average a grade lower at GCSE and are much more likely to fail English and maths, something he believes is caused by lack of support.
He said he feels privileged to have gone “to some of the best schools in Wales” while also receiving help from his family. But he said there are too many children who fall through the cracks.
“When I was younger I didn’t want to feel disabled or constrained by my disability. I think it can be really damaging for disabled children in general with the idea that generally they don’t achieve as well.
“I wanted to study medicine so that I could help other people in other situations of vulnerability, similarly to how I was helped when I was younger.
“My hearing completely controlled my life – and I think I’d definitely say that if I hadn’t had the cochlear implants and hadn’t had the support I’d had from my family, teachers and from Dylan, I wouldn’t have been able to apply for medicine.”
Will, who was among the students who had A level exams cancelled last year due to disruption caused by the pandemic, has just finished his first-year exams at medical school .
“Covid-19 has made this a weird first year at uni, but everyone has treated me normally and I feel like I really fit in at the university.”
His Careers Wales adviser Dylan Evans said: “While I helped him to focus on his ambitions and how to achieve these, it was Will’s sheer determination to not let his disability define him that pushed him to success.
“I worked closely with Will to look at the options that were suitable for him, in relation to his passions, interests and strengths, as well as his disability.”
Debbie Thomas, Head of Policy at the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru, said: “There are around 2,500 deaf children and young people across Wales and they’re showing incredible potential as they finish school. As they approach this critical stage of their lives, it’s vital they get the support, guidance and inspiration they need to aim high and secure the right career for them.
“Our fully accessible helpline is here for deaf children, young people and their families and we would urge any of them to get in touch when they need support.”