It wasn’t long before my teacher noticed that when she called all of the children to gather around, I would often not respond. She began to suspect that I might have hearing difficulties, which made total sense to my parents who — along with my teacher — thought that I was just ignoring them at times when my name was called.
An appointment for a simple hearing test with the family physician led to a trip to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Several days of intensive testing followed, confirming that I indeed had a hearing loss, and a significant one at that. The diagnosis? Severe to profound hearing loss.
My mother now faced the challenge of raising a hard-of-hearing child, something our family had never experienced before. Instead of being depressed, mom immediately found ways to encourage me to be a part of society and adapt to my hearing loss. Already, I had developed the art of reading lips so well that others did not know I had a hearing problem. However, there was much more to be done.
My audiologist fitted me with two behind-the-ear hearing aids, with batteries worn on a harness under my dress. I found it totally amazing that I could hear my footsteps on the sidewalk. My family was thrilled to see me laugh and skip along with this newfound hearing. This was just the beginning!
My mother enrolled me in dance class. I loved to move to the sound of low tones, especially bass. I also loved to feel the beat of the drums by putting my hands on the speaker, letting the “boom-bada-boom” flow through my hands. It was easiest for me to focus on the beat; after all, I couldn’t hear the words or the high notes
So, at 3 years old, my deep love of dance began — ballet, jazz and tap (I couldn’t hear the taps, but I sure could follow the teacher’s steps). My mother explained to the dance instructor that I could hear best when “seeing to read her lips” and needed to feel the beat. Thanks to my mom’s advocacy, my teacher used a cane to tap the floor, and always placed me by the speaker so I could feel the beat on the wooden dance floor. Dance class provided social activity with others my age, allowing me to build confidence in myself while having fun at same time!
Despite that growing confidence, I was shy to speak up outside my home, because others would ask why I talked differently. My mother enrolled me in the Easter Seals Speech Therapy program. Week after week, I blew out candles trying to make the “SH” and “CH” sounds I could not hear. So boring! I am thankful my parents never gave in to my constant complaints of wanting to play instead of going to speech therapy.
As I became older, my mother, a drama major in college, made speaking clearly more fun. She would have me stand across the street to read to her. I read poetry, and plays like “Romeo and Juliet.” She taught me enunciation, how to speak with feeling, and how to use my diaphragm to speak in a lower tone.
My mother had a wonderful sense of humor, and from that I learned to laugh at myself. As my vocabulary grew, I made plenty of mistakes when pronouncing words. Mom would always correct me, but in a nice way. In fact, we had many laughs over some of the funniest ones — sometimes to the point of tears. It didn’t matter if others looked at us with skepticism. We were in this together!
While growing up to become “me” was not painless, my family made it easier than it could have been. My mom provided me understanding and support, and encouraged me to pursue my love of dance. Dance became my outlet and a way to “fit in” with others as I grew up. I gained confidence each time I tried out for a dance part. Additionally, both dancing and my mother taught me how to advocate for myself. Mom encouraged me to share when I needed the music louder or required a second speaker on the stage so that I could feel the beat.
As I grew older, my mother continued to be my advocate. She handled things for me that I could not do on my own (like date night phone calls with my future husband) with respect and dignity. Never did I feel she was laughing at me, only with me. I know she hurt for me at times when someone would make a rude remark, but her behavior toward these people showed me how to react in unfavorable circumstances.
To this day, I thank my mother for her ability to see the possibilities in my life, even though I was faced with a challenge. Her belief in me allowed me to try new things, even though some of those attempts were doomed from the start. For example, I wanted to be a cheerleader, but I tried out and said all the wrong cheers. The point is, however, I tried!
I may not have become a cheerleader, but I did have more than my fair share of successes. I auditioned and won a spot as a go-go dancer on a Miami television show, and have shared the stage with Paul Revere & the Raiders, Simon & Garfunkel, and Neil Diamond. Those experiences opened the doors to meeting new people and extensive travel. To this day, I still dance! It gives me a chance to meet others that share the same interests. It also gives me an outlet outside the home environment.
I am sure it was not easy for my mother to cope with the everyday challenges of raising a hard-of-hearing child, but her choices along the way made it possible for me to become me, and for that I will always be grateful.