Mitchell focuses on a can-do attitude

Mitchell grew up on a cattle property in Northern NSW, which he says was an idyllic childhoodMitchell grew up on a cattle property in Northern NSW, which he says was an idyllic childhood

Nineteen-year-old Mitchell Pitman received his first cochlear implant at age two and his second at age eight. He also has cerebral palsy, but he is not held back in any way, and says the key for him has been in accepting who he is and learning to find the humour in everyday life.

Mitchell grew up on a cattle property in Northern NSW, which he says was an idyllic childhood.  "When your neighbours are so far away, you can make all the noise you want! We had heaps of room to play football – it was great!" he recalls.

It's clear when you speak to Mitchell that he doesn't see or focus on anything he can't do, but rather on the wide range of things he can.  Of his experience with cochlear implants, he says they have helped him achieve many things in life, "Essentially anything a hearing person takes for granted, I rely on my cochlear implants for. They've enabled me to speak and access sound like anyone else and that has made me more like other people rather than different," he explains.

While offering plenty of lifestyle advantages, living in rural Australia does present some additional challenges when it comes to accessing services for cochlear implant recipients. Prior to the opening of the RIDBC Lismore Centre in 2011, Mitchell says he and his family had to travel to the Brisbane to receive vital speech, mapping and support services that enable him to maximise the use of his cochlear implants.

"Having a local service is really helpful for anyone, but particularly for children and their families. Having to travel to major centres for regular mapping and any support services they need to access is disruptive and can impact outcomes," says Cleon Kirby, Mitchell's RIDBC Audiologist.

Mitchell won Heywire competitionIn 2016, Mitchell's family and teachers encouraged him to enter the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Heywire competition, a story-telling contest which celebrates the diversity of youth in rural Australia.  "I had written about my personal experience for a school assessment and it made everybody who read it laugh out loud," he explains. "So, although I didn’t want to enter at first, every one kept telling me I really should."

This honest approach and can-do attitude saw Mitchell win the competition. Part of the prize was a trip to Canberra with other winners from around the country; to share their stories, collaborate on ideas for youth in rural Australia and meet the Members of Parliament who could impact their future. Of the experience, Mitchell says it was amazing. "The really great thing for me was that there was zero judgement. We had forty or so kids from rural areas around the country, and they all had their own story.  It was really supportive and a great group to work with," he recalls.

After the win, Mitchell says students from across his high school were coming up to congratulate him and many said the story had inspired them.  And that's Mitchell's goal, to share his story with others to encourage them to see themselves in a more positive light.

He recently shared his story in person to an audience of more than one hundred people, at a QUOTA International Event, where he chose RIDBC as his charity of choice to receive a $1,000 donation.

While he says speaking to a large group was nerve-racking, it was important to him to help others who might be on a similar journey, and he wanted to secure the donation for RIDBC. "I believe every child deserves the opportunity to hear, like I've had; it opens you up to so many things in life. RIDBC helped me so much, and I want to help more kids have access to these services."

Now finished high school, Mitchell is studying IT at TAFE and working in the space at his local council, and he is looking forward to a long career in the industry.

He wants other young people to know that their cochlear implants shouldn't hold them back. "Treat your cochlear implants like a gift – that's the way I see mine. They have given me so much. You can do anything you want if you put your mind to it," he says.

"Try to see the fun side of life and have a laugh at yourself from time to time – that's been my secret," he adds.

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