Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Childhood Years: Dealing with Deafness

See that little baby above? Yep, that was me on my golden birthday which was my first birthday! Alas, this was not why I wanted to type a post today. I wanted to answer one of my followers' questions, and that was to share my story about how I became Deaf and how I dealt with my Deafness during my childhood years. 

My mom became pregnant with me at age of twenty-five. As far as she knew, there was no hereditary deafness running through our family, and she did not expect me to become Deaf. When I was born, I was a healthy baby weighing at 6 pounds, and I did not have any external health problems. Life was good. Mind you, this was back in the eighties, and there was no mandatory hearing newborn test. It was unknown if I was born Deaf because I did not receive a hearing test as a newborn.

I began having recurring ear infections. My mom began to notice that I was not very responsive to sounds in my environment. I was not babbling or hitting milestones for speech development. I was not fixated on toys  that made sounds. I paid a very little attention to television. However, I did gaze intensely at people's faces while they cooed, spoke, and giggled with me.

I had a family physician to look at me. He assured my parents that they were being over-cautious, and that I was perfectly fine. If there was some hearing loss then fear not because I was going to "outgrow" my hearing loss. Unconvinced, my parents took me to an audiologist. I was placed in a very dim room with a two-way mirror. Sounds chirped, cooed, blared, and thrummed in the room while the audiologist screened me carefully. Since I was still too young to determine whether I had a hearing loss, and face it, the technology back then was not at its finest like today's; I was eligible to have a middle ear tube surgery, and was sent to Milwaukee's Children Hospital. 

It was when I had tubes inserted into my ears. Basically, what it did was a small tube being inserted near the ear drum, located in the middle ear, to maintain and ventilate the pressure. It was supposed to help reduce ear infections, and hopefully to restore my hearing loss. 

My ear infections did cease and came back periodically throughout my childhood especially when I was battling a cold, a flu, a pneumonia, or your typical childhood illnesses. However, my hearing was never restored. It was unknown if I had ever lost my hearing before I turned one or if I was simply born Deaf. 


At age of one and half; I was declared to be profoundly Deaf, and it was almost as if a final nail was being driven into a wooden casket for my parents. It was difficult for my parents to accept my hearing loss. They had to grieve for their child's hearing loss. Every Dick, Tom, and Harry came at my parents with their own perspective of how to raise a Deaf child. What was the right thing to do for me was being bombarded at parents; my education, my upbringing, what type of hearing aids, to enroll me in a speech therapy, to teach me sign language or not at all, to learn sign language for me, and dealing with my Deafness. Was I going to have a normal upbringing just like my peers? How was I going to learn in school? Should I go to Deaf institution or be mainstreamed in a public school? After all, I was the only Deaf person they had ever known in their lives. 

Immediately, I was given a chance to learn ESL (English Sign Language--ASL version was taught to me much later in my life), and my vocabulary boomed. My first sign was BALL. I thirsted for knowledge, a language to claim of my own, and explored my curiosity in my silent world with my hands and eyes. I was enrolled in an early intervention program at a local elementary school. 

I was fitted with hearing aids, and enrolled in a speech therapy. I have never liked my hearing aids. I felt it had no benefit for me at all. It was just distracting to hear mumbo-jumbo. I did not recognize a sound of each letter, sound of a word, and let alone sounds of the sentence. It made no sense to me. I often objected having it to be fitted on me, and expressed no interest in learning to speak. Signing was something I found fascinating and made sense to me. Eventually, I stopped having hearing aids, and stopped speech therapy to focus on what I knew the best: signing and relying on an interpreter to get through school. 

Soon, I was taken out of early intervention special education program and became completely mainstreamed by the time I entered second grade. While other students saw my difference, I saw the sameness, and did not allow my Deafness to frazzle me. I had an interpreter that translated spoken English into signed English. I loved learning, and was constantly reading books. Books became my world. I craved learning what each word meant, and wanted to know a sign that went with the word. With my learning, I grew imaginative and inquisitive. I began writing stories, writing to other students, and writing for writing's sake. This love of writing and reading attributed to my understanding of English language. 

I often met with many specialists starting in elementary school all way into middle school to determine how far I have progressed, how I was doing with my hearing loss, whether I was learning enough, whether my level of intelligence was normal, and to determine, to be blunt, if I was normal like my peers. I passed every tests with flying colors. Matter of fact, every specialist came back stating that I was above intelligence compared to my hearing peers. The last specialist I saw was in sixth grade, and the specialist threw in the towel and stated it was pointless to continue test me. She said everything about me was normal except my hearing. I continued to take advanced classes, earned A's and B's in school, and did extremely well as a student.

A lot of credit went to my mom for standing up for my educational right and having an interpreter in school with me, and my love of reading, learning and writing. Because of this, the lesson I've learned during my childhood has taught me that my hearing loss did certainly not equate to my intelligence. 

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