Hard of hearing - An insight to how it affects us
I was born hard of hearing but it was only diagnosed when I was around 7 years old. My speech was very slurry - so I was being teased a lot for that and other things that came along. Nobody knows for sure why I am hard of hearing. Either it was the fact that I was born with Cesarean emergency at 7 months about 45 yrs ago, and the doctors struggled to keep me going (which nowadays is no longer a concern), the fact that my mother's blood group interfered with my father's and caused rhesus factor issues endangering my life and health (and that's why I was born in an emergency) or if it was inherited from my father's side.
Well, the reason matters less....I don't have any records from my first readings of hearing tests that were taken when I was young, but I assume they were not as bad as they are now, still not great either. But aging usually gives you some additional loss, which does not affect the average person all that much, but can make a huge difference when you are already having a loss.
I went to an audiologist about a year ago. His reaction shock me up a bit. He sat there in front of me speechless for 5-10 minutes and then he only asked:"And you have never had a hearing aid?" kind like of affirming it once more. Then he shook his head and said that he was in disbelief how I made it this far and actually managed to learn two languages, when I should have not learned my mother language properly in first place. Was it a praise or a wake-up call for me? I'd rather say the last one, even though he praised me for making it through this far without hearing aids. People often didn't notice right away that I am hard of hearing.
When I was little and was told I was hard of hearing - I still remember, it was a mixed feeling, but I did not talk about it. I was made sure I was sitting in front of the class room and on the left side of the teacher, so that I could pick up more with my right ear which is better off. But I had a struggle - on top of all the teasing about me being so skinny and other issues I had to deal now with the fact that I was "disabled"....at least that is how I felt in the beginning.
I learned over the years to accept it somewhat and not to think about it too much. But it kept affecting me. Some things affected me directly, others rather unconsciously. Looking back now - I see where and how it affected me, even as far as my personality goes. And I would like to share more about it in order to help other parents to understand their children better and for the general public to get a better understanding. In addition I feel very upset about the fact that hearing aids are not paid for by any insurance. While they are not perfect, they still improve your life in many ways and I will go into more detail about that later on.
I have a hearing of 30% on my left ear and a 25% hearing on my right ear. It is hard to give somebody an idea of where that stands. Last year I got hearing aids: for the first time in my life I heard the loud sound of my dogs drinking water, how noisy a plastic bag is, I kept walking around for a couple of days constantly asking my boyfriend: "What was/is that noise?"....I also got a feeling for how noisy this world actually is....and sometimes how blessed I am not to have to hear all that, especially at night...!
When I was about 15-16 years old, I was watching a movie at home and towards the end, everybody came home and made a whole not of noise....I was unable to understand a single word. My brain switched automatically into "lip-reading" mode, which I never had realized until that moment....and the actors were speaking English out of a sudden. Well, the movie was synchronized! Luckily my English was already pretty good at that age and I had no problems understanding it.
I learned lip-reading unconsciously over the years, that is why I always appear very focused when I speak to someone, because I simply focus on their face. When I have no opportunity to look at the face of the speaker, unless I am on the phone, listening is getting much harder for me. Sometimes it goes that far that I shut off trying. I am talking here about listening without hearing aids. I will go to the changes of a life with hearing aids later on as well. - I learned quickly interrupting others to help understanding is not useful at all for too many reasons.
It is also very difficult for me (and even with hearing aids, because I never learned it I guess) to write stuff down while listening to someone. I am an "absorber" when listening to someone, it takes a lot of concentration, and even with hearing aids it still does. While others are listening with easy, someone who is hard of hearing needs twice the energy if not even more to grasp as much as someone with perfectly fine ears.
So, learning is much easier when you have a book with you or written material to lean on to. And this is affecting children in school the most. While I do not suggest to put a child with a hearing issue in a class with deaf children, I would work on other strategies and try to get the teacher involved. Allow the child to have written support whenever possible, especially when learning another language.
I remember trying to learn French many years ago. While I would not have had any issues really learning it, the teacher, who did not know that I was hard of hearing and I didn't feel there was a need to spread this news in that course, she insisted on teaching without books mainly. She started off with conversations and to get a feel for the sound....well, if I would have had the material she would not have been stuck with a letter that I just did not hear and she was trying to get me to "get" it and was irritated by my loss of comprehension. Half an hour later we opened the books and I found the word I stumbled on and I knew then where my problem was and never had a problem with the word again.
Any learning should take a different approach and you should keep in mind that someone who is hard of hearing uses 2-3 times the energy than someone who hears well. Wouldn't it be great to release them from all that straining energy that costs them to learn? Grades would probably go up and confidence as well, you might even get a surprise of a lifetime how intelligent your child is. It is stuck in the troubles of the style of learning.
Sometimes people get the impression you are less intelligent, when you don't get things right away, when you ask a question again, when you repeat something or you have to ask someone twice because you did not understand. Believe me, we want to hear you and want to understand you - that's why we ask again....and again if needed. Often people feel annoyed by it and say "Forget it"...That's something that aggravates me, because it is obvious the other person wants to tell me something, but then tries to "forget about it". It feels like a blame game and downgrading. It is not my fault that I am hard of hearing, just need a little bit of understanding now and then.
Directions! Don't tell me "I am here!" If I don't see you, that won't give me any clue. In order to hear directions your ears have to be in good shape and both ears have to hear the same - otherwise hearing directions is impossible. So, my response is "Where here?". Give me a direction and I can meet you.
Other times people ask:"You don't hear that?" in a very surprised manner. No, I don't...and it doesn't seem to be the end of the world to me. I never heard the noise, so first of all I don't know what you are talking about, and secondary if I never heard it and lived so many years without - it cannot be that important. In addition to my lack of volume, there are also some pitches I cannot hear at all, there are some in the lower and upper range, but usually the very high pitches are more affected. This affects also understanding different people. There are voices that are easy to understand, while others are harder - I find the deeper voices harder to understand.
How else does my hearing loss affect me. Well, I never was crazy about parties or events where crowds meet. It is impossible for me to follow any conversation, because of all the surrounding noises and voices. It is way too much strain and costing me way too much energy. Yet, I have learned something that other people admire. I can shut off my surrounding completely. I have worked on the phone making calls to clients and customers. When I am on the phone I do not recognize my environment in order to focus strictly on the phone. I had others calling me while being on the phone or trying to get my attention by waving their hands etc....with no luck. They told me they wished they could focus like me.
It has two reasons why I learned and had to learn it. First of all I want to understand the person on the phone, without having lips in front of me, and secondary surrounding noises can be too distracting and draining. Usually a person picks up all kind of noises from the surrounding and don't have too much trouble keeping them apart. Now put a person who doesn't have perfect hearing in that situation. The noise in the background from two people talking. Naturally there is an interest to understand and to follow that conversation while being on the phone at the same time. First of all I cannot focus on both, too straining. Second of all - probably no matter how hard I might try to understand the conversation behind me I will very likely not be able to grasp much and my brain would try harder and harder, with no luck. So, why try in first place? That is why I learned to cut it out, I learned that unconsciously as well. Most things I do I learned unconsciously just in order to make it through life with my hearing.
Often, once people know that I am hard of hearing their first question that comes to mind is if I would do sign language. While sign language is a great tool, no I have never learned it. It is commonly known for the deaf, and people often refer to deaf people than to those who are hard of hearing. Deaf people are also recognized more, due to their obvious sign language and therefore treated differently automatically. Being hard of hearing is not as obvious as someone who is blind either. Therefore it is not recognized as much as a total loss and often seen as having less of an impact than being blind when comparing hearing loss or vision loss. I personally think both is equal, while it affects you in different ways.
We learn to do things a little differently, handle situations differently and sometimes maybe even act a little different, because we had to find a way to make it work for us. It is that simple. We are also not less intelligent. Sometimes people think we ignore others, just because we didn't hear them calling us or asking us to do something or to do them a favor. We cannot do it if we didn't hear it. So, please don't assume we ignore you.
A big issue is music and tv. And it can go that far that it makes it impossible for families to watch tv or listen to music together. I was punished for listening to music way too loud during my childhood. While my parents knew I was hard of hearing, they never had a full understanding of the fact that for me the volume was never way too loud. They just were never able to get a hint of what I was actually hearing. I always needed the tv much louder or I wasn't able to follow the movie or conversation. So I never was crazy about tv, it was a waste for me, because tv volume was controlled by the majority. - It got even worse with my boyfriend, who is extremely sensitive to noise (perfect opposite!). I needed the volume all the way up and he was running for silence.
As I told you, my hearing loss wasn't noticed until I was 7 years old. Many times it goes unnoticed, because we don't notice things or we just ignore them and a tick or habit, something that runs in the family. Parents often feel insecure when their child is not "perfect". What is perfect? Yes, your child is perfect and there is nothing to hide about it. You don't help your child that way. Make it feel normal like every other child, just make some adjustments in the learning style and a few other things if needed to make it easier.
My ex husband had a son who I met when he was only 3 yrs old. I noticed something strange about it in a variety of ways, his ears looked somewhat 'strange" to me. And he often did not respond the way other kids normally would. So I suggested he might have a hearing problem only 3 months into knowing him. The family threw it off, saying my ex-husband, his father was shy like him when he was that age. Well, he went to school for the tests, flunked the hearing test 3 times. Then he went to a specialist just to find out that he was deaf on one ear, because of a bone missing. They implanted and artificial bone and his hearing is perfect now! I think from my personal experience I had a better understanding...but I also felt the denial of the family. Luckily he got surgery at young age and will likely not have any issues, but what if it never would have been detected?
Now, to the age of hearing aids. Well, they have come a long way with the different types of hearing aids. Are they working well? Are they perfect? Well, they help, but they aren't perfect. Many people cannot handle having something in their ear or behind their ear all day long, even I have moments when I feel annoyed by them. They still don't make up for perfect hearing, they amplify everything and some noises, especially when you have been hard of hearing for so long, your brain cannot adjust to the full natural volume anymore - way too loud. So, even with a hearing aid - it is still just an aid, but never a perfect option. I have now when I use my hearing aids, a hearing of about 60% on both ears - I cannot handle it any louder.
While I see benefits in having a hearing aid now, I am enjoying those days when I don't use them, or just need them for a couple of hours or so. They bother at times. I have to change volume in some situations. It is still not 100% hearing. The sound of your own voice is a little different. - But they help me when I am around other people, at work or at home watching tv. Yes, my boyfriend and I can watch tv together now! So, yes, there is some benefit and I believe the future of hearing aids will improve, not sure if it will get there where it is almost like natural hearing though. But the medicine is working on reproducing hearing nerves and they believe they will be there in about 10 years. So, maybe I will get a chance to get a feel for what it is like to hear like everyone else. But in the meantime I enjoy life like everybody else without feeling disabled at all.
But now look at those who did not grow up with hearing loss, but have to learn to deal with it an maturity or old age? They have a much harder time, withdraw, feel depressed because they don't know how to handle life and lip reading takes time to learn. They feel helpless in so many situations. Think about the elderly who are not very mobile anymore, used to enjoy tv and now they have a hard time understanding or have it way too loud for their partner - often some tv is their only entertainment due to mobility issues....and this is being interrupted as well. I wished Medicare would consider this and pay for hearing aids for the elderly, but instead of helping there are cuts being made at every angle. It is very disturbing to me.
Right now I am not too worried about my hearing when I am older....I want to enjoy life right now the way it is. Yet, I have one thing that worries me....I love music...and some day not being able to listen to music anymore is a scary thought. But as I mentioned earlier, there is hope for me to be among those who can benefit from nerve implant surgery one day. I keep my hopes up.
- One in eight Americans hard of hearing: study| Reuters
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - One out of every eight Americans has hearing loss in both ears, according to a new study -- and as many as one in five are hard of hearing on at least one side.Researchers
- Center for Communication, Hearing & Deafness | Wisconsin Hearing Center | Hearing Services