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Allison Schneider, with aid of cochlear implant, excels as athlete, student

Roslyn's Allison Schneider runs during a girls lacrosse

Roslyn's Allison Schneider runs during a girls lacrosse game on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. Credit: Richard T. Slattery

Allison Schneider is a two-sport athlete and the star of the Roslyn High School lacrosse team. A straight-A student, she enjoys watching sitcoms in her spare time and attends about 10 pop music concerts each year.

Her accomplishments are even more impressive when you consider what Schneider has had to overcome.

She was born with an impairment that makes her unable to hear from the left ear and only able to pick up sounds at about 100 decibels on the right, her parents said. In medical parlance, the condition is called "profound deafness." In layman's terms, her father, Steve Schneider, said, "It means she can't hear a darn thing."

Still, Schneider lives like a typical 17-year-old and, in many regards, has excelled.

Since age 2, she has functioned with the aid of a cochlear implant. The device was surgically placed in her inner right ear and connected to an attachment that rests above the ear. It allows Schneider to hear audio at close to a normal level, she said, though it can't determine from which direction the sound came.

"There are definitely challenges and things I have to do, and other people do, to help me compensate," Schneider said, "but I'm really fortunate that I've been able to live normally."

Talent on the field

A lacrosse midfielder and basketball point guard, she plans to attend Adelphi University on a lacrosse scholarship. Most opponents don't notice anything different about Schneider, lacrosse coach Michelle Crennan said. Few notice that she often looks to the sideline and reads the coach's lips.

What is abundantly clear is Schneider's talent: quickness, savvy, a strong, precise shot, and her tenacious defense. It was enough to draw the interest of several colleges, including Adelphi, which has won five NCAA Division II women's lacrosse titles since 2004. "Not everybody gets to play college sports," Schneider said. "Thinking about all I've had to do, that does make me feel special in a way."

Arielle Mayourian, a close friend who has played lacrosse and basketball with Schneider since middle school, describes her as the ultimate teammate. "She puts in so much effort, which makes everyone else want to push harder, and her positivity makes her a pleasure to be around," Mayourian said.

When Schneider was 9 months old and still unresponsive to sounds, said her mother, Elizabeth Schneider, she was diagnosed with profound deafness, the level before total deafness. The Schneiders were directed to an infant program at a preschool that specializes in hearing and visual impairments.

It was there that her parents noticed some of the older children wearing the cochlear implant. "We were like, 'What's that? We want that,' " Elizabeth Schneider said. Their daughter became a candidate for the surgery a year later and received the implant a month before her second birthday.

"It's pretty much all I've known my whole life," she said.

The procedure -- which cost about $50,000, her mother said -- implants the device in the cochlea, the auditory portion of the inner ear. It connects to a transmitter, worn over the ear, that captures and transfers audio to the brain. Schneider then worked extensively with audiologists and speech pathologists to identify and discern sounds and formulate words herself. She also began learning to read lips.

"She had to work hard, even as a baby, because she was two years behind the kids who could hear," Steve Schneider said. "But she progressed quickly enough between 2 and 5 that she was placed in mainstream kindergarten and not special education."

Classroom connection

Accommodations are made for Schneider in school, she said. Her teachers wear microphones that are synced to the cochlear device's FM frequency, so she is able to literally tune out classroom noise and focus on the lesson. It's worked, and she has managed a 94 average, she said.

On the field, Crennan said, "we rely on her tremendously. She has the best stick skills on the team and you can't even quantify all the intangibles." Schneider is the Bulldogs' captain and top scorer with 26 goals, and an inspirational leader.

Crennan said she makes sure names of plays don't sound alike, and Schneider sometimes has teammates repeat the coach's instructions. Before each game, the referees are made aware of her condition and use hand signals to keep Schneider abreast of all calls.

"I can't tell where sound is coming from," Schneider said, "so if a teammate to my left yells, 'I'm open,' I might look to my right. I have to make sure I see the field and the court well, and try to maximize the other senses to make up for that."

The Bulldogs run a good number of isolation plays for Schneider, spreading the field and allowing her to operate against a single defender. Given her impairment, Crennan said, such plays help reduce the opportunities for her to be involved in a collision.

"I can't describe how proud we are of what she's accomplished," Steve Schneider said. "Just remembering when she was a baby, how we worried if she'd ever hear or speak, or have some level of normalcy."

Allison Schneider said she has difficulty hearing on a cellphone and, last month, used only nine minutes of talk time. She instead communicates with friends mostly through text messaging and social media.

Then again, she's a teenager. That's about normal.

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