My hearing loss was not diagnosed until I was eleven years old; I had just enough hearing to fool everyone. My mother used to place me in her lap and read to me, her voice loud and clear in my ear. She ran her fingers under the words, which familiarized me with both the look and sounds letters make, and by doing so, I learned to read at four years old. For my fifth birthday I asked for a piano. My thrifty mom bought me a small organ and I learned to “play by numbers,” showing promising hand –eye coordination. My determination to play prompted her to enroll me in piano lessons at age seven. In seventh grade, I learned to play the flute, oboe, and bassoon.
Of course, reading early and playing musical instruments are not typical behaviors of a hard of hearing child. Strong-willed, I constantly got in trouble for “ignoring” my parents and teachers, and was punished routinely with time-outs at home, and made to write sentences such as, “I will listen to my teacher” one hundred times. My “insolence” was the only clue that pointed toward a possible hearing loss. I tried to behave and listen better, but began to believe that something was wrong with my brain. In fact, I believed I was mentally retarded, and tried to hide my “retardation” from others, terrified the “white coats” would take me away. My teachers angrily scolded me often for not paying attention.
My father was in the military, and we moved often, sometimes attending two or three schools in one year. If routine screenings for hearing loss were done at the schools I attended, I missed them all, until age eleven. When I was finally diagnosed, I was relieved to know something was wrong with my ears, not my brain. But as an eleven year old listenening to the audiologist describe the tubes she would place inside my ears, I became terrified! It sounded painful!
What a contrast to children screened for hearing loss at an early age. Just the other day, I met a little girl, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, and both of her behind the ear (BTE) hearing aids in full view.
“Hi! I wear hearing aids just like you!” I said.
The little girl beamed.
“How old are you?” I said.
“I’m six and a half!”
“How long have you been wearing hearing aids?” I asked.
“Oh, for a long time. Since I was five!” she said.
This little girl gets to grow up with her loved ones and teachers knowing about and accommodating her hearing loss. Her self-esteem appears to be intact, and she seems well-adjusted, happily socializing with her friends. What a lucky girl!