An Ohio couple never expected that one, let alone both of their children, would be born with profound hearing loss as they had no family history as an indication.
Felicia Aquilo and husband Steve are parents to two sons, Silas, 5, and Isaiah, who turns 2 later this month. As both parents are hearing, communication looks a little different for the family of four, who use both ASL (American Sign Language) and spoken language as both sons now have cochlear implants.
“When we found out about Silas, it was completely a shock. We didn’t have anybody that was deaf in our family, so we didn’t even know it was a possibility,” Felicia tells PEOPLE. “When they said he did not pass his hearing screening and it could possibly be fluid, I figured everything would be normal, everything would be great.”
“Fast forward two months, we went to the audiologist and they did the ABR (auditory brainstem response) test and confirmed that it was profound hearing loss, which meant that he was profoundly deaf and it wasn’t going to get any better.”
After learning of Silas’ diagnosis, Felicia says she went through a grieving process.
“I didn’t know what the relationship with my child was going to look like because of communication and how his life was going to look like. I didn’t know anything about deaf culture or the deaf community,” she says.
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Three years later, the couple welcomed son Isaiah, who was born with “severe to profound” hearing loss.
“He has access to some frequencies,” Felicia explains. “So hearing loss is a spectrum and some frequencies he’s able to access without any hearing devices, but it’s very few and far between. And he wouldn’t get speech sounds to develop spoken language without hearing devices.”
After Silas was born, Felicia says it took her “probably about six months of that grieving period to really jump into ASL.”
“We started implementing some signs with my son, Silas, in the very beginning. His first sign was at 7 months, he signed ‘mom’ and ‘milk.'”
Coming to the decision to try cochlear implants for their boys was not easy for the couple. While Felicia and Steve initially wanted to let their sons decide on their own to get the surgery, they changed their minds after speaking with various professionals.
“We were told that getting cochlear implants as young as possible, the statistics show that the earlier they’re done, the better chances they have at developing spoken language,” she explains. “If we give them the opportunity to develop spoken language by giving them access to sound and ASL, they can truly decide when they’re older which method of communication they want to use moving forward.”
Silas was 18 months old when he got his cochlear implant and Isaiah was 10 months. Seeing both sons have the opportunity to hear for the first time was “purely magic,” Felicia says.
“I didn’t know if they would ever hear me say, ‘I love you,’ or if they would ever use their voices,” she says, getting emotional. “It’s truly a miracle for them not to have sound and then all of a sudden be able to access the things that we’re hearing. It was a magical experience.”
Felicia notes that one of the most beautiful parts of her experience as a parent is watching her sons form an incredible bond.
“When we told Silas that Isaiah was going to have cochlear implants just like him, and he was deaf just like him, he said, ‘He’s going to have my ears? Not like yours and Daddy’s ears?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, he’s going to have ears like yours,’ ” she recalls. “He was very excited.”
“Ever since then, Silas knows that he has to sign with Isaiah when he’s not wearing his processors. When Isaiah’s processors fall off, Silas is right there to put them back on. Or he’ll come and tell me.” she continues. “Or if he notices the battery is dead, Silas will either go change it himself or tell me.”
“He’s Isaiah’s biggest advocate. He tells everybody that we meet that his brother is deaf and you have to use sign language and look at him when you’re talking,” she shares. “Basically everything that I’ve said to people that Silas has heard me say, Silas says for his brother, which I think is really cool.”
Felicia has been documenting her experience raising Silas and Isaiah on social media in hopes that she can help other families — just like so many others did for her.
“I started sharing because when I was first going through it, the moms and the dads that I met in that space that were sharing their stories were the reasons that I got through it,” says Felicia.
“They helped me so much by being able to see what they were experiencing and how they were handling things,” she adds. “I know that even if I’m helping one person by sharing our experiences, I’m doing something good. If it weren’t for those families that were doing the same thing, I don’t know how I would’ve managed.”