Book review: He Is Not me: a Deaf Childhood, a Hearing Adulthood

Steven Morris

Steven Morris

I was delighted when I was asked to review Stuart McNaughton’s account of his life both before and after receiving a cochlear implant.

As a recent recipient of a cochlear implant myself, I was fascinated to read of someone else’s experience with this potentially life-changing technology. At this point, I should probably briefly outline what a cochlear implant actually is. A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted electronic device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.

He Is Not Me cover

The book opens with a wonderfully moving introduction written by Stuart’s mother detailing the circumstances surrounding Stuart’s early life which Stuart later expands upon. One of the things that come across most strongly from Stuart’s story is the determination of his parents to give him the best chance in life possible.

At the time (early 1980s) the expectation was that a profoundly deaf child would attend a special school for the deaf. Attitudes were very different then – one medical professional told Stuart’s parents at the age of three that ‘he was either incredibly deaf or incredibly stupid.’

Stuart went on to attend various mainstream schools and writes with real warmth about some of the people who helped him such as is teacher of the deaf. Stuart goes in to some detail about his school days, the struggle to hear teachers and make friends. Bullying from other children was a regular part of his life and he talks about having real feelings of loneliness.

The situation worsened just before he left school with a further deterioration in his hearing. Following years of struggling to find and keep jobs, as well as increasing isolation, Stuart was introduced to the idea of a cochlear implant and the rest of the book charts Stuart’s journey through the implantation process and how his life changed following the surgery. I’m not going to say anything else here about Stuart’s journey as this would spoil the experience for anyone else reading the book, suffice to say that it is certainly an inspirational tale.

The book tackles some difficult subjects—Stuart is very honest about his difficulties at school and the bullying he suffered as well as the workplace discrimination he was subjected to at the start of his career. Through all this adversity however, Stuart’s strength of character shines through.

As someone who has recently received my cochlear implant, there was a lot in the book that I could identify with. Struggling on with hearing aids that weren’t really giving you anything, withdrawing from social situations and cutting yourself off from friends for fear of not being able to hear them were some of the emotions Stuart outlines here that I could remember experiencing before my own implant.

I remember, just like Stuart, researching online to get as much information as possible about the implant and to try to connect with others worldwide who have received one. I would definitely say that, for anyone considering a cochlear implant, this book should be required reading. Stuart goes in to a lot of technical detail about the various hearing tests but this is done in an accessible way that anyone reading the book would be able to understand. The rehabilitation process is very well explained – this was one of the things I was most worried about prior to my own implantation.

In one of the most interesting aspects of the later part of the book, Stuart touches on the controversy within certain parts of the deaf community towards cochlear implants. He tells of one of his friends who, despite being eligible for a cochlear implant, were worried about going through with it because of how she might be perceived by her deaf friends. There is a whole section at the end of the book which deals with this difficult subject and it will certainly shed some light on why opinions about implantation are so divided within the deaf community.

To conclude, I can only say that I wish I’d read Stuart’s book before my own surgery as it would have given me a lot more reassurance! Obviously outcomes vary after implantation, one person’s experience won’t necessarily mirror someone else’s, but to read such a detailed account of the potential benefits would have been hugely comforting before taking such a large step in to the unknown.

He Is Not Me is available both as a paperback and as a kindle e-book. You can find out to order on Stuart’s He Is Not Me website.

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