"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive." Anaïs Nin

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

I Was the Child With A "Hearing Problem"

People are often surprised when I tell them I was a hard of hearing child who became deaf as an adult. I think they get confused because I speak as well as I do, but that is due to speech therapy in school. It was my seventh grade English teacher who set up my meeting with a speech therapist. My teacher, Mr. Young was confused that I wrote fairly well for my age, yet I couldn't pronounce a lot of words when it was my turn to read aloud in class. He believed writing skills reflected one's reading skills. He suspected more was going on with my speech than what we realized. One doesn't make speech sounds if one doesn't hear them, or isn't taught how to make them.

My mother read to me all the time, but I only heard her when I was sitting on her lap or right next to her, and even then, I didn't hear her well. She has a very soft voice that is difficult to distinguish. I would not know she was talking to me if I wasn't looking at her.

When we briefly lived in California, I was put into special education classes. My math skills were horrendous. I struggled all through school and college with math. It was all foreign, it still is. Part of my struggle had to do with how the teachers came up with the answers and numbers they wrote on the blackboard. If I couldn't see their lips, how in the world was I to know how they came to the conclusion to the problem they were explaining? They always had their back to the class when they were writing on the blackboard. I could see what they wrote, but I could not see what they were saying.

My biggest struggle with a teacher was in fifth grade. His name was Mr. Gates, and I really liked him, but my constant questions irritated him. It finally got to the point where I didn't want to ask questions anymore, or even go to school. Mr. Gates had great facial expressions, but his lips were impossible to read. I could tell by looking at him when he was in a good mood, if he was enjoying what he was teaching that day, as well as when my questions made him cross and irritable. Mr. Gates didn't have a voice,,,until I was standing next to him when he was sitting at his desk. Then he had a bit of voice. My questions in class were things he had already talked about. How could I know what was already discussed if I couldn't hear him or read his lips? I wish I could go back and explain to Mr. Gates I couldn't distinguish what he was saying because I simply couldn't hear him. I didn't understand at that age that my hearing wasn't "normal" like everyone else's.

I always sat at the front of the class in the desk closest to the teacher. I should probably mention that not only could I not hear, I also have a congenital vision impairment, rotary nystagmus,   which causes me to often miss small nuances with speech shapes on the lips. It also makes it difficult to distinguish some signs. If someone signs too fast, I only get part of the conversation. I have to be close enough to read lips and hands.

I often wonder if I was the only kid in school with a "hearing problem". I never knew anyone else in class who struggled with following along. I seldom knew what was going on around me. I preferred to be around loud kids. It was the same with people as I got older. I gravitated to people that were loud and/or animated. It took me a long time to understand why I made these choices. At least if they were loud or readable, I could understand what they were saying and thinking.

Once in a while I wonder how my life choices and friendship choices would have been different had I been able to hear and understand what was going on around me better. Those moments don't last too long, nor do I dwell on them because I have found someone to love, and things that I love to do. Interestingly, Fabulous Husband is soft spoken with very expressive eyes. His body language is easy to read and he is wonderfully gentle and expressive.

In the end, it doesn't matter that I was a child that had a "hearing problem". It doesn't matter that I am now a deaf adult. It matters only that I kept my heart and eyes open to really see the people who matter most, and how blessed I am to have them in my life.


  1. I'm so glad that you wrote this! It helped me understand my own hearing loss while a child so much better! I know my parents sometimes thought I was being self centered b/c I just didn't understand or "get" what was going on around me. I often felt like I was living inside a bubble that prevented me from hearing well, or interacting comfortably with others.

    1. Btw, Michelle, your post is getting positive reviews on FaceBook. One reader described "You and I and the Difference" as "poignant" I thought you would want to know:-) thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. I understand what your saying , but how can a child explain if they don't have the vocabulary or understanding themselves? I didn't understand wht I hated cartoons as a kid unti just a few years ago. The lips were t real-how can you read what they are saying? Oh, I did like "Road Runner@ but it was purely visuali, no talking. :-)