I know a little boy who was born with a hearing disorder. His mother is my friend and an extraordinary educator, so she has spared no expense in time, money and sacrifice to help him to lead a more normal life. He spent many of his toddler days at Texas Children’s Hospital and in special programs for those with hearing impairments. Through it all he has remained happy, friendly and optimistic. Recently he received a new more powerful pair of hearing aids and his mother posted a video of him wearing them for the very first time. The smile on his face as he listened to the sounds around him was breathtakingly beautiful. I found myself having one of those ugly cries of joy as I watched this little fellow beam with excitement. I grinned often for the rest of the day just thinking of him.
We all too often take the precious sense of hearing for granted. Mine is still rather sensitive even as I age, but my husband and many of my friends are now using hearing aids in order to hear more precisely. I can’t imagine anyone having to deal with a loss of hearing age but I have known many people who battled with hearing problems even from very young ages.
When I was in college I met a girl who was deaf. She was able to read lips and understand words by placing her hand over a person’s mouth as they spoke. She amazingly went to college in spite of her handicap and excelled in her classes even though she was unable to hear the lectures from her professors. The teachers provided her with written synopses of their lessons and she used her sight to “hear” what they had said. Much of the world was still a mystery to her. Closed captioning was not as fully developed back then so she never really had the opportunity to enjoy television programs or movies. Amazingly she was able to listen to records and to dance and keep pace with the rhythm of the music because she said that she could feel the vibrations of the instruments on her skin. She was amazingly optimistic and inspiring to all of us who knew her.
Later I would meet a man who had lost a great deal of his ability to hear after he had become an adult. He had great difficulty understanding what people were saying when he was in a crowded situation even as the hearing aids he used were perfected more and more. What made life better for him was modern technology. Talking on a phone was impossible, but smart phones allowed him to text. He was able to communicate with his daughter every morning via text messages after his wife died. He watched television and movies with closed captioning. He was even able to see live musicals because the theaters close captioned the dialog and lyrics. He used email as another means of communication. All of these things provided him with a freedom that kept him independent and happy.
When I was teaching I had a group of students from the Houston School for the Deaf in my mathematics class. They had to sit at the front of the classroom so that they would be able to read my lips and see the board clearly. I had to wear a transmitter and they wore receivers that somehow sent my words to their brains. I never completely understood how the technology worked, but I was able to communicate quite well with them and they were model students.
My own daughter developed hearing problems from having a multitude of ear infections. Over time she stopped singing and talking as much as she had as an infant. I had no idea what was happening and her pediatrician was missing all of the cues as well. In kindergarten her teacher deemed her to be slow and recommended that she be placed in the low reading group for first grade. Thankfully her first grade teacher was not convinced that my little girl was a slow learner. The teacher noticed that my daughter was tracking her lips so she moved her to the front of the classroom and even repeated instructions to her to be certain that she was hearing them. When my girl caught on quickly to the lessons, the teacher decided to have the school nurse test her hearing. The nurse found that she had a forty percent hearing loss and suggested that we take her to an ear nose and throat specialist immediately.
After surgery my daughter’s hearing was incredibly better, but to this very day she dislikes talking on the phone because she often has trouble catching every word. Nonetheless, he has mostly done well thanks to the remarkable observations of her first grade teacher. She has enjoyed a very normal life that might have otherwise been very difficult.
For me, being blind would be the worst possible affliction of the senses, but losing my hearing would not be a much better fate. I love the sounds of my neighborhood, the amazing music that humans create. I like talking with others and being able to communicate with them through sound. Knowing the hearing impaired has been a valuable lesson for me. It has taught me to cherish the fact that I can clearly hear the world around me. It has also given me the opportunity to both understand and admire those who are not as fortunate. I don’t get frustrated with them because I have learned how important it is for them to be able to partake in the the social interactions of the world. Today I’m smiling whenever I think of the little boy who demonstrated his unadulterated joy in hearing sounds that he had never before experienced. Modern technology is glorious and his life will be so much better than it might otherwise have been.