Life & Culture

Rita Simons: My Daughter , Deafness and Me


In a week that saw Lord Sugar back on our screens, the most moving and thoughtful programme was about other members of his family - his niece Rita Simons, aka EastEnders' Roxy Mitchell, and her daughter Maia.

At first sight, Maia is like any other bright, pretty girl, but she is profoundly deaf in one ear and has severely impaired hearing in the other. With her hearing aids in, she can cope adequately and has a wonderful singing voice - the girl is clearly destined to follow her mum onto the stage.

But, depressingly, the prognosis is not good. Her hearing is almost certain to deteriorate, which means that, with a heavy heart, Rita and her husband Theo Silverston are having to investigate the alternatives for their daughter. One is to send her to a special school where she will learn to sign. Rita visited a deaf school and was encouraged to find an environment in which Maia would not be placed at any disadavantage.

To experience their daughter's world, Rita and Theo wore ear plugs which gave them the same levels of hearing as Maia. Both of them felt isolated and disorientated.

But there is also an operation that could help Maia. A cochlea implant consists of tiny electrodes that are stimulated by sound and, in most cases, give some hearing back. Theo was played a simulation of what someone with an implant would hear. Voices are audible, in a Dalek kind of a way, but music is inaccessible. This was a fact that upset him, given his daughter's talent.

Rita met a group of deaf people who are vehemently opposed to the implants. They have their own deaf community and language, and they resent the hearing world's insistence that deafness needs to be "cured". They had Rita's sympathy until one of them claimed that to give her daughter an implant would be a form of "abuse".

Rita and Theo clearly have some hard decisions to make, but Maia is lucky to have parents who are so sensitive to her problem and determined to allow her to lead as normal a life as possible.

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