Being the Only Student with a Hearing Loss

My son, Harrison, is 14 years old, has mild-to-moderate hearing loss in one ear and a moderate loss in the other, and uses bilateral hearing aids to access sound. He has always been the only kid in his school with a hearing loss, first in pre-school, then elementary school and now junior high school. Having a hearing loss hasn’t slowed him down. He is active in sports, has good friends and does well in school. He was the first student with hearing loss in memory to be accepted into the gifted and talented program while in elementary school. He now attends East Junior High and the Treasure Valley Math and Science Center in Boise, Idaho, and hopes to be a marine biologist or veterinarian someday. He gets good grades, but has to work hard to do things that his friends who have typical hearing take for granted. The stress and frustration can be overwhelming. With each new school year, he faces the challenges of unfamiliar teachers who probably have never worked with a student who is deaf or hard of hearing before, and classmates who have never had a peer with a hearing loss. Classroom amplification systems have helped, but haven’t always worked. In general, he has been lucky. Most of his teachers are supportive and have gone above and beyond to accommodate his hearing loss. But every year, new problems pop up and he has to learn to cope. And, as been true his whole life, he starts each year as the only kid in school with a hearing loss.

 This year, his English teacher, Gloria Webb, assigned his class to write an article or essay for submission to an outside publication. Harrison decided to write about the isolation he sometimes feels in his own life. – Joan Hansen, Harrison’s mother

The Lone Sounds of Life

My life as the only student who is hard of hearing in my school can sometimes feel like a bottomless pit of confusion. It is not always that bad, but it is a struggle. I miss a lot of sounds. I often don’t even know if I have missed a sound, sometimes at my own expense. My life at school is defined by what I hear, what I don’t hear and how I learn to cope with the differences.

When I meet new people, they do not always notice my hearing aids. They often do not understand why I do things in a different way, and it may seem weird to them. They will shout at me because they think I am doing something wrong, even though it is just the way I do things. Sometimes, even when they do notice my hearing aids, they will still shout at me. They think I am just being “difficult” or I am lying about my hearing loss. They think I am dumb or don’t have any “feelings” because I can’t hear well.

The Hansen FamilyIn school, I struggle with how some teachers act. They cannot seem to adjust to having a student who is hard of hearing. For example, even though my parents and I have asked them not to, they will do things like speak facing the board and not toward the class. The sound just bounces off the board and away from me. I can only hear a bit of what they say. I can’t understand those lone bits of sound if they don’t talk to me.

Teachers will also sometimes change assignments orally and I will miss what they say. Then, when I turn in the assignment, I get marked down or get an “incompletion” grade, even if I have everything else correct. This makes me feel sad and confused because I try so hard, but I don’t seem to meet their standards. It is not that I cannot do the work, but I need to do it my way. It takes a lot of extra energy to do simple things, like listen to a lecture or take notes on a video that is not closed-captioned. If I cannot see the notes or the information the teachers are trying to pass on to me, I find it harder to understand.

I have learned how to cope with the frustrations of being hard of hearing. I spend time with family and friends who understand me. I am also active in sports, like basketball, soccer and tennis, and that helps, but it is not without problems. Occasionally while playing basketball, I will receive a technical foul because I can not hear the referee, and once a soccer coach threatened to kick me off the team because I couldn’t hear him.

Surprisingly, there are some advantages to being hard of hearing. When I sleep without my hearing aids, noises don’t wake me up. I sleep well and have lots of energy when I wake up. The only bad part, of course, is actually having to get up. In school, I find it easy to focus when I take my hearing aids out. Also, I can turn my hearing aids off if my parents are nagging me. Of course that just makes them mad but, after all, I am a little bit of a teenager (but not too much of one).

There are advantages and disadvantages to being the only student who is hard of hearing in my school. Once I explain my hearing loss, most people understand and treat me fairly. Good teachers, good coaches and other school officials have helped me thrive. I have challenges to overcome, but so does everyone else, each in their own way. I may be the only kid who is hard of hearing in my school, but as I listen to the lone sounds of my life, they tell me I am not alone.

Source: Volta Voices, May/June 2010