Lipreading Mom has a big confession to make—something I haven’t revealed openly until now.
I was a Lipreading Child.
For years, I was a Lipreading Child who never got help. For one reason or another, my hearing loss fell under the radar and I never received help.
This is the first time I have written about my experiences as a child with hearing loss. Why? Because I was never officially diagnosed until the age of 27. Yet at age 6, I struggled to hear words via headphones in the classroom. My parents took me to an audiologist who quickly asserted that I did have normal hearing but that I had an attention disorder. There was no second opinion.
So as a child, I was told that I just had trouble paying attention and needed to try harder to focus. “You’ve got selective hearing,” well-meaning family members told me. And I believed them—for more than 20 years.
Here is my story, told in a Q&A format.
Describe your family background.
Lipreading Mom: I was born into a hearing family. Deafness runs in my extended family on my father’s side. An aunt, uncle, and two cousins are deaf.
When were you diagnosed with hearing loss?
My hearing loss wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was an adult. However, when I started kindergarten in a public school, I struggled during the listening lab activities in class. My parents took me to an audiologist for a hearing test, and they were told my hearing was fine, just that I had “trouble paying attention.”
What was your family’s response?
Nothing was done to help with my “attention issue,” either by my parents or teachers. I didn’t go to any other doctors for a second opinion. To this day I am convinced I had a mild hearing loss then that went under the radar. I did get reminders to pay attention, quit daydreaming, and get my head out of the clouds.
Did you use assistive technologies (hearing aids, cochlear implants, FM systems, etc.)?
I didn’t use any of those devices in school because the oneaudiologist had told my parents I could hear but just had attention issues. So I sat in the front of class (on my own), made sure to read my textbooks from front to back, take plenty of notes, and worked my tail off to compensate for my “attention issue.”
Did your family use sign language?
No one in my family used sign language. I first learned some signs when I went to a public college in Oklahoma, and I became friends with deaf education majors. We would practice signing and talking in the cafeteria. They gave me my sign name: “Curly S.” (I had a bad curly perm back then!)
When did you realize you were deaf/hard of hearing? How did you feel about it?
It didn’t sink in that I had a hearing problem until my oldest child was born. I developed ringing in my ears that never stopped. At the age of 27, I had my hearing tested and was diagnosed with tinnitus and progressive hearing loss, cause unknown. I was asked to purchase hearing aids then, but I refused to get them for two years. My hair was short, I was back at work, and I didn’t want my boss or co-workers to see that I had a hearing issue.
Describe your social life in school. Did you make friends easily? What are some positive and negative experiences you feel comfortable sharing?
To compensate for my “attention issues,” I tended to go back and forth between being reserved or extroverted, depending on my mood. I’ve always liked making friends, but it was difficult to know how well I would be able to understand their voices, particularly in a lot of background noise. So I tended to dominate conversations so that I didn’t have to listen. One friend, who also struggled with a diagnosed attention issue, became my best friend in 6th grade, and we remain friends to this day. I accepted her as she is, and she accepted me. Still does. Some kids made fun of us for being so close, but I didn’t pay attention to them…probably because I couldn’t hear them well!
What was your family’s involvement with your education?
My dad paid $5 for every A I made on a report card and $1 for every B. I accumulated a lot in savings over the school years! Both parents attended as many school functions as they could. But at one point, they both were working 5 jobs between them just to make ends meet. This was during my middle school years, and I felt like I had to work harder to keep up my grades. I asked my teachers lots of questions and made sure I took pages of notes. Being left home alone after school and many weekends made me appreciate the value of setting high goals for myself and working hard. I worried a lot, which kept me awake many nights. But I am proud that I worked so hard, and my parents were, too.
Recall some good and bad teachers or professionals you experienced.
I don’t recall any bad teachers, but there were several good ones. Teachers throughout elementary school told me I talked a lot in class (probably because I preferred to dominate conversations). Little did they (or I) know then that this was a coping mechanism for possibly a mild hearing loss that had fallen under the radar. The louder I talked, the more everyone listened…and this got my name written on the chalkboard with lots of checkmarks for Talking Too Much in Class. My middle school English teachers noticed how much I liked to communicate and assigned interesting writing assignments to express my thoughts. That’s when I became hooked on writing.
My first job out of college was for a phone telemarketing company. Needless to say, I misunderstood much of these phone conversations and became so stressed. I never took a phone job after that. With other jobs, as long as I could face the people in which I met with or could use email, I did well professionally. The phone was always a challenge.
What influenced your career choices?
My love of writing encouraged me to pursue a degree in Communication with a Journalism emphasis. I also took courses in Voice and Diction, Public Speaking, and Interpersonal Communication. Today, I continue to write books, articles, and for websites. I launched Lipreading Mom Communications, in which I teach lipreading/speechreading for those, like myself, who were diagnosed with a hearing loss as an adult.
How did your education shape you?
I am grateful that my Communication studies exposed me, not just to writing, but to verbal communication. As a person with hearing loss, it is essential that I use proper voice and diction skills when giving a presentation or teaching a class since I don’t hear my voice clearly, even with hearing aids, and I want to project as clearly as possible.
As an adult, how does being hard of hearing affect you?
I identify more with the hard of hearing since I didn’t grow up deaf or culturally Deaf. As I mentioned, I love to speak, but I can’t hear 100 percent, so I use lipreading and hearing assistive technology to understand those around me.
What TWO pieces of advice would you like to share?
– Don’t stand quietly with hearing loss or deafness. Advocate for yourself or child by being involved in the classroom, volunteering, learning as much about assistive listening technology and sign language. Get second opinions from doctors. Always.
– Put yourself out there. As a mom with three kids all in school, I try to stay involved by volunteering at school and letting their teachers know what skills I have to offer them…and that I appreciate them. In our local public schools, I feel my children (two of whom have special needs—not hearing loss), get the support they need. It is truly a team effort to plan out their school year. The teachers, paras, guidance counselors, principals, social workers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, and myself meet quarterly to review educational goals and revise as needed. In these meetings, I bring my FM system to hear and remind the team that I have a hearing loss and need to read their lips.
I am a Lipreading Mom who once was a Lipreading Child. And that’s okay.
Readers—Were you a Lipreading Child? Tell me about your experience by leaving a comment.