I was born with severe to profound unilateral hearing loss in my left ear. Around the age of three, one of my preschool supervisors noticed that I would swivel my head around aimlessly and owlishly when my name was called.
My parents took me down to an audiologist and gave me the works — poked and prodded me with otoscopes, distinguishing tones from white noise, word comprehension tests, etc. It turned out that I would have difficulty perceiving the direction of sounds or distinguishing speech in noisy environments and that I might have a little trouble with balance but on the whole, I would be fine.
In school, I use a Phonak Roger Pen paired and a Roger Focus, provided by the Toronto District School Board. I set up the Pen either on my desk, on the instructor’s desk or around their neck via a lanyard. I find this system works best in classes where the teacher lectures plenty. The improved sound to noise ratio really helps me concentrate.
The directional microphone of the Roger Pen is particularly helpful in tracking those pesky teachers that find amusement in pacing around the class. However, in group discussions, I find myself habitually cupping my ear and swiveling my head anyway. The little boost that the Roger Focus could provide was quite beneficial to me in my high school career.
“The little boost that the Roger Focus could provide was quite beneficial to me in my high school career.”
Back in Grade 1, before I was assigned any of the smaller in-ear devices that I use today (that my school board probably thought I would lose, which come to think of it was definitely a good call), the hearing technologies that I had were clunkier and less elegant. The board provided me with a heavy, cereal box-sized speaker that little six-year-old me had to lug upstairs and downstairs between classes. It also came with a headset mic that left every teacher feeling like Britney Spears (it was the early 2000’s, after all).
“The board provided me with a heavy, cereal box-sized speaker that little six-year-old me had to lug upstairs and downstairs between classes.”
While I admit it was a bit of a chore carrying the amplifier around, I remember being quite fond of the attention that I got for it. One benefit of the system was that it boosted the signal to noise ratio for everyone in the class, not just myself. Sure studies show that this improves concentration, response time and increases focus time among school-aged children, but for me, this meant I got to play DJ for the whole class.
Really, I adjusted the volume knob time to time. Distinctly, I recall the class and I coming together to show new substitute teachers how to use the technology. This quite possibly being the start of my hearing loss advocacy.
I would say that one big hurdle in life was finding my place in it. I never felt like I fit in all that much, not that I particularly wanted to. In March of 2018, the school board gave me the opportunity to go on an overnight trip to Kearney, Ontario with a bunch of other teens with hearing loss. This was my first exposure to anyone else with hearing loss in my life. We clicked, talking about our daily challenges, our technology and all the other common threads that tied us together.
I’m proud to say that we kept contact after the school-organized excursion and we are still friends to this day. When Phonak flew us down to Chicago in September of 2018, I was delighted to go through the process of meeting and learning about the lives of all these kids just like me. The diversity and the nuances of everyone’s character were charming. Everyone had their own take on hearing loss and were all extremely engaging.
“The diversity and the nuances of everyone’s character were charming.”
My advice to other teens with hearing loss: find a community. Simple as that. It doesn’t even have to be people with hearing loss, though it doesn’t hurt when your friends have a better understanding of what you’re going through. Find a group of friends that’ll support you and encourage you to be the best you that you can be. Don’t stop being you.
Did you read the article about Phonak Teen Advisor Natalie? Read it here!