I never talked much about my hearing loss as a child.
My mother was informed of my poor hearing ability when I was at the age of five. My kindergarten teacher noticed my hearing “problem” within the first marking period of school and alerted my mother. My teacher believed my poor academic performance was a result of my inability to hear well. I also had a speech impediment which may have alerted some parents, but as far as I know, this was the first time my mother became aware of my possible hearing loss.
In my mother’s defense, she was a single mom of three at the time. I’m sure she was very busy.
I did not get properly diagnosed until I was in the second grade, which again was a result of the school suggesting I should be tested by an audiologist. My mother had remarried by this time. She and my step father took me to Temple University in Philadelphia to see an audiologist where I was diagnosed with a mild conductive hearing loss in my right ear and a moderate conductive hearing loss in my left. The doctors were unable to establish if I was born with my hearing loss or if I had lost it at a young age. They mentioned to my parents that I had naturally learned to read lips. I had no idea I was doing it. They said that considering my speech articulation and lip reading (with sound), I most likely became hard of hearing very young. They asked my parents if I had been around any loud noises or if I had a lot of ear infections, both of which could have contributed to my hearing loss.
I had many ear infections as a child. I remember crying with pain in the middle of night with little or no sympathy from my family. I was often accused of overreacting. A couple times, I got the blow dryer out and put it up to my ear. I had heard this sometimes helps to soothe the pain. I would have cut off my ear if I thought this would have relieved the pain. To this day, of all the pain I have experienced, including a cut that needed five stitches, a broken toe, and giving birth two times, the aching from an ear infection is one of the worst pains I have experienced.
I’ve occasionally wondered if my hearing loss was caused by the many ear infections I had. I’ve questioned how a parent would not notice their child having a mild or moderate hearing loss. More importantly, I’ve pondered why a parent would ignore a diagnosis.
The decision was made; I did not need hearing aids. As a result, life was challenging at times. “Huh” and “What did you say?” became a part of my everyday conversation.
My siblings loved to make fun of me. The hearing jokes were endless. I had people tell me, “Get the wax at of your ears.” Some accused me of being an airhead and tell me that my “blonde roots” were showing (I am a nature brunette), which I found out later as an adult that many other people like me have been accused of being an airhead too. I had friends ask me if I was stupid and other times, call me stupid, playfully, because I didn’t get a joke. I would have a delayed reaction on the punch line. They assumed it was because I was slow. It was because I was listening then processing which for me is a two part process. In my later years, I often heard jokes that attributed my hearing impairment as a sign of aging or getting older. I just laughed it off in my younger years. But the one thing the bothered me most was how my family, friends and co-workers commented, ridiculed or hushed me up for talking to loud. This is the one thing that really pissed me off.
Other than that, I would say I assimilated well to my surroundings with my hearing impairment. However, at times, I did feel different and disconnected from my environment. I truly believe that if my parents would have taken my hearing ability or lack thereof more seriously and if I had gotten the assistance that I needed earlier in my childhood development, I would have performed much better in school which would have improved my self-confidence.
I got my first set of hearing aids in my late 40’s. Amazingly, I adjusted really well. Previously, noises were muffled sounding. When I put my hearing aids on, it was like my head opened up. Think of how it feels being under water; closed and restrictive, right? Then think of how it feels when you come out of the water. That’s how wearing hearing aids feels for me. It’s like I am going from under the water to out of the water; to much louder and clearer sounds.
One of the biggest adjustments was my voice volume. I could hear my voice loud and clear. Without realizing it, I began talking in a very low volume, which to me sounded loud when I was wearing my hearing aids. For the first time in my life, I had people tell me that they couldn’t hear me and asked me to speak up. I couldn’t believe it. This felt great! I began to understand my voice volume by the vibration in my throat. That way, I could try to monitor my volume when I didn’t have my hearing aids on.
Another way to describe to someone who does not have a hearing impairment is to have one person put their hand over their mouth loosely and talk in a normal tone while the other listens. Try to carry on a normal conversation for an hour or even longer. See how well you are able to hear, interpret, and comprehend what the other person is saying. See if you feel any frustration as a result. Now imagine being in a large classroom and listening to your teacher sound like this as she verbally gives her lesson or listening to your boss and co-workers discussing important issues in a large meeting room.
Lastly, let me leave you with this. If you speak to someone and they don’t respond, don’t assume they are being rude and ignoring you or that they are daydreaming. It may be that they are deaf or hard of hearing. And if someone asks you to repeat the information, please politely do so (without showing any inconvenience). The key to communicating with a hard of hearing person is to be near them and preferably facing them while you are speaking to them in your normal speaking tone. Understand that not all hard of hearing people are the same in their ability to hear.
Many hard of hearing and deaf persons don’t wear their impairment or disability on their sleeve. Unlike other disabilities, hearing loss is unseen and often is misunderstood. A little compassion and consideration goes a long way.