Home / Blog / Diagnosed as being profoundly deaf as a toddler (and never expected to hear or talk), Ruth MacMullen has defied all expectations to become a talented musician.


  • Diagnosed as being profoundly deaf as a toddler (and never expected to hear or talk), Ruth MacMullen has defied all expectations to become a talented musician.
    23 Sep , 2016




























    It took a while for Ruth MacMullen’s parents to realize their baby daughter was deaf.


    “There was no history in my family so it took a while for my parents to find out,” Ruth said, “They realized something was wrong because I was not responding to noises. My mum could drop a stack of saucepans and I wouldn’t wake up.”


    When she was 18-months-old a doctor diagnosed her as being profoundly deaf, which Ruth, now 29, describes as being “just one up from total deafness”.


    BeBe and Philip were told their daughter would never be able to hear or talk, and that learning British Sign Language was her only option. But they weren’t prepared to accept what they were told without question, and with the knowledge their daughter had a little residual hearing, became determined to give their daughter “a normal life,” Ruth said.


    “My parents were open to the idea of sign language but what they wanted to do was to try and use my residual hearing.”


    With the support of a high powered hearing aid and a speech and language therapist, Ruth was able to learn to speak and even began to sing with the support of her mother, who taught her with a focus on the rise and fall of pitch.


    “When I was eight I said ‘I really want to learn an instrument,’” she said, “They thought it was a brilliant idea. I wanted to learn the flute but it was too soft so I learned the clarinet.”


    Ruth not only learned the clarinet but went on to join an orchestra, a woodwind group and to pass her Grade 6 clarinet exam. “Music was always important to me,” she said, “I grew up listening to Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead. Music has been part of my life. “I can’t tell you how much music means to me. I’m moved by beautiful music, it makes me happy.”

    But the biggest life changer came when at the age of 13, Ruth was given a cochlear implant, an electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Unlike hearing aids, which make sounds louder, cochlear implants do the work of the inner ear to provide sound signals to the brain. While eventually proving to be life changing, it was disorientating experience to begin with.


    “You hear noises but you don’t know what they are,” Ruth said, “It takes your brain years to learn what noises are and turn them into sound. There’s a big difference between a noise and a sound you understand.


    “I was going to school at the time so it was very difficult. But it was worth it.”


    At 23, she was given a second implant. “It made a big difference. It really helped with hearing speech in a noisy environment,” she said.


    Her sister Rosa also has hearing loss and cochlear implants, Ruth said.


    Ruth now works as a librarian at York St John University, having moved to the city to study history and English.

    She has turned her attention to working with charities helping people with hearing loss, including as a mentor for HearPeers, an online community where she offers advice to people who have, or have children with, profound or severe hearing loss in the lead up to and following their hearing implant surgery.


    “I thought I have this pretty unusual story so I want to share it,” Ruth said. Speaking about the advice she offers to parents, she said, “It’s really important to look at what their children want out of life, to see if there’s a hobby they want to do and to support them with it. “You are only limited if you allow yourself to be. It’s not just the ear, it’s the brain. The brain is a remarkable thing and it will cope if you practice and you push yourself.”


    Ruth has urged people in York to speak to their GP about testing if they they or a relative may be experiencing problems with their hearing. And she also feels that people need to be more aware of hearing loss which is an invisible condition that can often be misconstrued as a lack of intelligence, she said.


    “There’s a real stigma about people who do not hear properly,” Ruth said, People need to speak clearly, face-to-face, she added.

    Meanwhile, Ruth’s interest in music continues. She and her partner, who plays the piano, play music together, and Ruth has recently taken up singing lessons.


    “It’s going pretty well,” she said about the lessons, “It’s something I have wanted to do all my life.

    “When I was little I was bullied for my voice.

    “I wanted to sing to the world. When I had my cochlear implant I could hear enough to sing, it’s a miracle really.

    “My mum still thinks it’s a miracle. It sounds cheesy but it’s true.”




    • There are more than 45,000 deaf children in the UK half of which are born deaf.

     • There are many more children who experience temporary hearing loss.

    • Evidence suggests that there is a 10-year delay in people seeking help for their hearing loss.

    • Up to 45% of adults reporting hearing loss are not referred for a hearing test or a hearing device.

    • Research also shows that children, whose hearing is profoundly impaired before they learn to speak, are more likely to benefit from treatment with a hearing implant if it is given at a young age.

    • Children with the implant can start to receive auditory information at a time when their brain is especially ready to learn language. Therefore, their hearing and speech has an opportunity to develop in a manner similar to that of their normal hearing peers.


    Source: York Press

    Image credit: Ruth MacMullen (Sisters: Left to right, Ciara, Ruth and Rosa, who is also deaf).