Sunday, December 20, 2009

(Mis)understanding Hearing Loss

Hearing loss has been difficult to explain to the people around my daughter. I rely heavily on my own past perceptions of the hard of hearing. Before I became educated and intimately acquainted with the workings of the ears I just didn't understand much about hearing.

Before Julia, the only hard of hearing person I knew was my grandfather. His hearing was destroyed during World War 2. He has hearing aids that he won't wear. Our communication with him consists of yelling at increasing volume and repetition.

Seeing hard of hearing older folks made me think that hearing was sort of "on" or "off". Grand pap used to hear, now he doesn't. Everything needs to be louder. When Julia was a baby, I knew that she could hear because she responded to some sounds. I had no idea of all of the things she wasn't hearing.

The first thing the audiologist showed us after the testing was conclusive was the "speech banana". This was a confusing bit of information at first. I remember feeling weepy when I saw that whispering and birds singing were so far out of her range. I studied the chart and tried to figure out where Julia's speech approximations came from and how we took so long to diagnose the hearing loss.
The banana shape encompasses all of the speech sounds. Different letters are marked on the chart. Normal hearing is represented by the dashed line at the top of the banana. Taking Julia's 55 dB loss as an example, all of the speech sounds are above that mark. Theoretically, without her hearing aids she can't hear any of those sounds.

Things louder than 55 dB like a dog barking or a piano would be accessible for her without hearing aids. But the tricky part is that it isn't so cut and dry. She wasn't missing all language and hearing dogs barking consistently. There are just too many variables to figure out what her world was like before the hearing aids.

At this point, the 55 dB loss is "corrected" by hearing aids. Aided, Julia is hearing at the dashed line above the banana. It's still not as good as normal hearing due to background noise and other interference that I will never understand. This is why her teachers will be compelled (by me) to give Julia preferential seating and establish eye contact when giving instructions. There will be additional effort to overcome the imperfections of the aids.

Educators still ask, "can she hear me?" They see the hearing aids and think she's hearing nothing. I can show them speech bananas and explain listening bubbles, but my biggest fear with moderate hearing loss is that the school will just ignore it. The hearing aids do get her to that dashed line after all. So my husband and I remain geared up for a long school career of advocating for our child so that her disability never has a chance to interfere with learning.

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