Brenda

My name is Brenda. I am a wife, mother and teacher today, who grew up with a significant hearing loss. My hearing loss was moderate to severe bilaterally, as a child, then gradually progressed to a bilateral severe to profound level in my adult years. We are not really sure what caused my hearing loss, it might have been the 106 degree fever I had as an infant for seven days. I was 18 months old at the time, and was hospitalized. No one else in my family has hearing loss, so I believe I had normal hearing until this time.

Apparently there were some indications that something was wrong with my hearing after this. I spoke in a garbled voice, as my grandmother put it, and she told me not to say “huh” all the time. Doctors told my mother at the age of 4 that I was profoundly deaf. She knew that was not correct. My mom spent her time getting in my face and talking to me, that was the way I began to acquire my language. At the time, if you didn’t come from a family that already had hearing loss, there was no information or support for parents of newly identified kids with hearing loss. So we plugged on with life.

I made it to first grade and started having difficulties in school, which triggered further investigation into my hearing loss. I remember having a spelling test sent home in which I wrote what I thought I heard, only to find out it was a swear word. The teacher sent the test home with a big question mark on it, like I should be in trouble for writing that word. Actually I have a very vague memory of life before my hearing aid, it is a big blur. I attribute this to the fact that I heard only bits and pieces of language until this point.

At the age of seven we were able to get accurate results of hearing loss. A hearing aid was prescribed. The hearing aid was fitted for my left ear, which at that time was the worse ear. Nowadays, kids are fitted with two hearing aids, as we now know that is better. I vividly remember the first day I got my hearing aid. I was walking down the sidewalk and was amazed that my feet made noise. I heard my footsteps. I also heard birds and crickets. It must have made my mother cry to realize that I had never heard those sounds before. It was a miracle that I was able to benefit from such technology. Yet, despite the technology, back then, I did not get any special support from schools. I had to learn to cope with everything myself. Speechreading came naturally to me. And I have to think my intelligence saved me. I was able to figure out what people were saying and doing by watching and looking at others. I also developed a love of reading and reading was my way of gaining language. No one taught me coping skills, or sign language. I became a master at blending into my environment so that no one would notice I was hearing impaired.

We also led a transient life, in which we moved every two years on average to a new state. I went to 11 different schools in my educational career. I think this led the schools to have a hard time identifying my needs. This was in the 70s when new special education laws were beginning to take shape. In spite of this, I didn’t receive any services except speech therapy in 6th grade for my r’s and s’s.
I had what I would call a normal teen life, but chose to hang around with one friend at a time, instead of groups, because it was too difficult to socialize in noisy situations. I really was a kid who wanted to please everyone, and would do anything for a teacher or a friend to please them. Having a hearing loss really affects your self esteem and level of confidence, as you are always unsure of what to expect or what is going on. I was a good kid, who played in the band, and really never gave my parents any trouble.

I entered into college, because of my extreme desire to please and do well, I made a class rank of about 250 out of 500….and did well on the ACT. I did have a high school counselor tell me that there were things I shouldn’t think of majoring in because of my hearing loss. Because of my summer experiences working as a teacher’s aide in special education, I decided to go into education. Thinking back, I did limit my job choices to ones that I knew I would be successful at with a hearing loss.

As I ventured into college, I realized that the field of deaf and hard of hearing education was interesting. It was my first exposure to sign language and I absorbed it like a sponge. It seemed natural to me. It was at this point that I realized that there was actually something called a hearing itinerant teacher! A teacher who goes into the schools and helps the kids with hearing loss cope with all of the things they encounter in schools. I know now I was destined to go down this path. I graduated from college with a 3.5 grade point average. I learned in college that there were things out there to help me with classes, such as FM systems and notetakers. I also learned to advocate for my needs, especially when a required test to graduate was going to be presented on tape only, no visuals. I told them what I thought about that!

I met my husband of 21 years in high school, and we married while I was in college. He is not hard of hearing, nor are my children. When my kids were young, my hearing loss concerned me with being able to hear them, but I coped by sleeping in hearing aids and using the various assistive listening devices that I teach my very own students about. I continue to live life with daily struggles with hearing loss, even though I have a very supportive family. I now have two digital hearing aids and at the age of 40, with the new hearing aids, discovered that bacon sizzles, as well as a can of pop when you open it! I will always marvel at the new sounds I can hear. Daily misunderstandings occur at my home between my family and me. We thankfully have a good sense of humor about it. Because of my oral upbringing, I still feel really like a fish out of water when I join the deaf world, although it is a place I feel I could blend in…..I also feel like a fish out of water in the hearing world, because of all of the daily challenges with communication. It is just like other hard of hearing people that I meet. We are always not sure where we fit in.

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