Growing up with Hearing Loss: How I Gained Confidence to be Myself
When I meet a new person, they often have lots of questions about my hearing loss.
Did you go to a deaf school? Wow, you speak so well for someone who cannot hear, why? Do you know sign language? How did you get to where you are now? How long have you been hard-of-hearing? Who taught you to lip read so well? When did you start wearing hearing aids? Did you like your hearing aids as a child?
These are all questions I get on a weekly, if not daily basis. They are great questions, and I bet every hard of hearing/deaf person has different answers. To answer, though, I have to go back and reflect on how I was raised and what kind of mindset it gave me.
Discovering my hearing loss
I was born in October 1990 as a seemingly typical, healthy baby. As the days went on, my parents began to suspect I was different. I got frequent ear infections, I was not walking around the time I was supposed to and I was not reacting to sounds. At one point my parents took a pan and a spoon and banged them together behind me to see what would happen. Naturally, I did not react. They did a hearing test before and after getting tubes put into my ears and there was no difference. They were told to take me to the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia to get a brain stem test done. The test revealed that my nerves were not functional andthat I had a hearing loss.
When I ask my parents how they felt when they found out I couldn’t hear, they expressed how scared they were. They did not know what would happen or how life would be for me.
At 15 months, I was declared hard of hearing and at 18 months I got my first hearing aids. Apparently, it took only a week of bribing me with M&M’s to get me to wear them. There were times I threw them into the bathtub (sorry Mom & Dad!). But eventually, I realized they helped me and opened up another world that was once silent for me.
One of the biggest decisions my parents were faced with was – do we send Jaime to a deaf school or mainstream? They were advised to see how well I would do at a mainstream school, which plays a huge role in how I evolved to be the woman I am today.
I attended public school up until graduating Keene State College with a Bachelor’s degree. I am extremely grateful for this decision because it helped me in many ways. Had I attended a deaf school, I would have had to learn sign language as my first language. With sign language as a primary language, my communication with the rest of the world would have been different. I would have struggled to talk with people who could hear or did not know sign language. My social skills may have been different with the lack of verbal talk. Upon going to college, it might have been even more difficult for me to adapt to life at a public university or my experiences might have been different at a deaf college.
By attending public school all my life, I was taught how to go about life just like any other kid my age. However, I still stood out because I had a hearing loss.
For one, I had an FM unit, which is a special microphone that the teacher would wear. This microphone transmitted their voice at a louder level to my hearing aids. My hearing aids had special ‘boots’ which were little pieces that were clipped onto the end of the hearing aids and enabled the receiving from the transmitter. I would go to school where my microphone was normally left in a classroom or my locker to be charged, and every morning I would clip on my ‘boots’ and give the microphone to my teacher. Once I got to middle and high school, where I would have up to seven different teachers a day, I had to carry the microphone to each class and have each teacher wear it.
You’re probably wondering how I felt about this.
When I was younger, I didn’t care so much. However, as I got older, especially in high school and college, the ‘cool’ factor started to set in. It was embarrassing at times like when teachers would stop mid-lecture and ask ‘Jaime, is the microphone working okay?’ Or if there was a guest speaker and they had to be briefed on why they had to wear a microphone. Overall, I knew it was just part of who I was and most kids didn’t care, so I didn’t.
While in K-12 grades, I regularly attended speech therapy and hearing classes.Once a week, I was pulled out of class to attend speech therapy. It was a one-on-one program where my therapist went over sounds that I struggle with to help my speech improve. With my hearing loss, I cannot hear silent sounds such as; SH, S, CH, and ST. So I would have to repeat these sounds sometimes within words or without over and over.
Yes, growing up I strongly disliked speech therapy. It was frustrating, lowered my self-esteem, it was extremely repetitive and boring. I also did not like being pulled away from my peers. How do I feel about it now? Extremely grateful. Had I not gone to speech therapy, my speech might be incomprehensible. Although, I still have an ‘accent’ and some words don’t sound right when I talk, my speech is pretty articulate for what I don’t hear. Funny thing about this is, when people first meet me they often ask ‘where are you from? I notice you have some kind of foreign accent.’ Well, accents are cool so I don’t mind that sometimes.
“…when people first meet me they often ask ‘where are you from? I notice you have some kind of foreign accent.'”
Along with speech therapy, I had a hearing advocate teacher. Where I’m from, there is a program called Montgomery County Intermediate Unit or MCIU for short. This is a government supported service that seeks to help with schooling. They also help students with disabilities (or differently enabled, as I like to say) with getting alternate or supplemental school practices. Through this program, I would see a mentor once a month and they would educate me on what I had a right too and what laws supported me. They would read me excerpts from books about advocating for myself and what to do in certain situations. This I didn’t mind as much, since it was something I was learning about and encouraged me to stand up for myself in troubling situations. Now, I know what I’m entitled too due to my hearing loss.
When I attended college, things changed as far as what extra help I received. I drifted away from using a FM unit as I didn’t like the singled out attention it brought sometimes. It also made me feel nerdy to carry a microphone around. Instead, I utilized Keene State’s disability services, which was beyond exceptional.
When I first arrived at the school, my parents and I met with people from the services and established what I needed from them and how they could assist. From then on, I would send them my schedule before each semester and they would reach out to my professors. They sent them a letter stating who I was and what I required to do well in classes. I cannot express how much this program helped me and allowed for me to succeed in college. The fact that the professors were briefed from the beginning helped me tremendously when I introduced myself that first day of class. Typically, they understood from the start what to do and had fewer questions or issues. Being a film production major, they were informed that I would need subtitles or closed captions. Therefore, they knew to prepare that before class instead of having me say something mid-movie and then struggling to figure out how to get the assistive words on the screen while the class waited.
Due to my parents putting me through mainstream schooling, I never did learn sign language. As I was growing up, I taught myself to rely on lip-reading. I did not get special lessons or classes for this way of communicating, it was just how I adapted. People often say to me ‘I don’t know how you do it. I have tried to lip-read and it is impossible!’ Well, maybe it is impossible, or maybe if you were born without something, you would figure out your own way to make it work.
It also took me 25 years of lip-reading to get to where I am now. Practice makes perfect, right?
It is often confusing when deaf signers try to converse with me and I apologize and explain that I do not know it. Many times people with hearing with try the same thing only to find out I lip-read and converse verbally. People are often disappointed but praise that I never needed to learn sign language.
Hobbies and Passions
Aside from school and learning, the rest of my life was pretty mainstream as well. My parents encouraged me to try whatever sports I wanted to experience – so I tried them all.
Basketball, field hockey, lacrosse, taw kwon do, soccer, softball, skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, roller blading, horseback riding, scootering, water polo, biking – I did just about everything. I stuck with basketball, soccer, snowboarding and water polo for the most part. There were challenges in EVERYTHING. I couldn’t hear the whistles, I couldn’t communicate as well with the team because I couldn’t hear the shouts of plays or directions or where the ball was. It didn’t matter though, I still played, I still had fun, my parents came to most if not all my games and cheered for me, praised me regardless of how well I played.
When I got to high school, I decided I wanted to try water polo. This was an even bigger challenge, but as we established in my last blog post, I crave that. Now I couldn’t even wear my hearing aids when I played. I had to play a team sport in my silent world using only visual clues. I ended up loving water polo. I played from sophomore-senior year and wanted to play in college but my school didn’t offer it. It was challenging, a physically and mentally hard sport.
My parents never sheltered me from the world. They sent me out the front door with cheers and pats on the back with encouragement to go learn, see and find out for myself what it was like out there. If I got hurt they told me to stop crying and suck it up (so mean, I know!). If I got teased in those few situations, they told me that it was them, not me. If I didn’t understand why I was different, they told me it was just like someone who couldn’t see and wore glasses, I just had to wear hearing aids.
They took my sister and I on trips every year, whether to the beach or a ski resort. They encouraged us to be smart and safe, but to learn from our own experiences. To appreciate life and the little things and that everyone is different around the world.
“If I didn’t understand why I was different, they told me it was just like someone who couldn’t see and wore glasses, I just had to wear hearing aids.”
I’m sharing my experiences this for anyone who is curious, but also for the parents of hard of hearing children. Some of you have commented on my Instagram with questions and I wanted to answer. My parents are just like any other parents, they were scared, they struggled, there were tough situations but they did they best they could and I am forever grateful for their decisions.
This is what I recommend to any parents who have HOH or deaf children – to encourage them and support them in anything they want to do. By helping and having them figure out how to overcome their everyday obstacles, they will become immune to anything that stands in their way.
In college, I was asked to do a video interview and a couple other interviews for the school newspaper about my hearing loss. Unfortunately, there are no captions for the video but if you’re able to watch it, it might be interesting for you.