Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Misunderstanding 1 - Hearing Loss Does Not Mean Silence

Having lived with hearing loss for most of my life, I see how often it is misunderstood.   If you're a person who is hard of hearing, I bet you have stories too-- tales of people who make a remark or perform an action that show, despite good intentions, some people JUST DON'T GET IT.  I used to get super frustrated by such people, but I've learned it's not always their fault.  They don't fully understand, or necessarily realize they're being offensive, and for good reason.  Hearing loss is confusing, complex, individualized, embarrassing and often awkward to address. 

But I'm blessed to have a forum to talk about it.  Welcome to the first post of a series I call "Monday Misunderstandings." As the title suggests, on Mondays I'll be writing about some of the misconceptions I've come across since talking openly about my hearing loss.   I hope you find it entertaining as well as educational.   As always, please let me know what you think!  

There can be perks having a mom who is hearing impaired.

For years, my kids have collected dollar store whistles, toy instruments, and kazoos, not to mention electronic toys and most recently, iPod apps that come with musical flourishes, beeps and squeals.

Often my kids have returned from a birthday party, grabbing the squeaky horn from the goodie bag, and immediately entertaining each other with noisy nonsense.

And me?  I would just sit in the middle of it all,  Not. Giving. A. Crap.

I didn't hear it.

Still, life experience has taught me this particular kind of noise tends to piss people off.  It might be my acoustic memory from childhood, or perhaps how my normally peaceful husband goes absolutely ballistic during toy instrument performances.  In any case, I recognize child noisemakers drive people to breaking points.  I also acknowledge kids don't really care, and love making that noise anyway.

So for Colin, Claire and me (Sorry Jeff), in THIS instance, the hearing impairment was a blessing.

But my hearing loss doesn't excuse everything.

There are two frequent sounds in my household that drive me absolutely bonkers.
The first appeared after Colin discovered a love of basketball.  From that day forward, any chance he got, he was dribbling a ball around the house. 


During phone calls, during conversations, while trying to watch TV...


The second noise driving me close to insanity, or at least insomnia, came from the other male in my household.  How such a small, quiet man developed one of the LOUDEST snores in the history of humankind blows my mind, but in his 30's, it happened.  When Jeff sleeps, he turns into a foghorn.

This is nothing new; I haven't "discovered" these horrendous sounds since I received my cochlear implant.  I could hear them before, I can hear them now, and in both pre- and post-surgery, they annoy the hell out of me.

In my Chronicle newspaper article last week, the headline reads:

My younger sister, Mandy, also hearing impaired, was annoyed by this.

"I think that headline is a misconception," she wrote on Facebook.  "It bothers me when people say 'oh you're deaf, can you hear me speaking?'  It's not that we can't hear sound; it's comprehension. The headline makes it sound like you've never heard Colin speak before."

I admit I initially thought the same thing, but I understood the editorial decision.  Truth be told, I've heard my son since he was a baby, though it was a challenge if I wasn't right next to him, or looking at him.  His cry from another room was not always heard; his little voice on the phone was not always understood.  To be able to talk with him for five minutes without looking at him- an experience I described after my most recent mapping- stems from being able to UNDERSTAND him as opposed to just hearing sounds come from him.

I offered these thoughts in reply: "I think most people don't realize that for the hearing impaired, HEARING and UNDERSTANDING are two separate issues. And I get that. For example, when I look at something, I don't worry I'm not perceiving it correctly.  I either see it or I don't."

You might remember in a previous post, I discussed hearing loss and dementia.   I mentioned Katherine Bouton's new book, Shouting Won't Help: Why I- and 50 Other Americans- Can't Hear You.   I haven't read it yet (if anyone out there has, I'd love to know what you think), but I got to tell you: I just LOVE that title.  Hearing loss isn't always an issue of volume.  What's more, I love the cover-- a woman with her ears under water.

Why?  Because hearing loss, at least in my experience, is often similar to having your head submerged.  Sound might be present, yet it can be distant and distorted, but IT'S OFTEN STILL THERE.   

Hearing loss doesn't necessarily imply SILENCE.  

What I've learned is that hearing loss- and really all disabilities for that matter- are truly individualized experiences.  Most people mean well and truly want to help, and the best advice I can give is to not ASSUME what a person can or can't do based on the label.  If you're unsure, ASK the person.   ASK HOW to help, and then I hope you'll commit to doing it.  

In my case, I'd tell you to email or text instead of calling.  I'd tell you that even in the loudest of parties to still look at my face instead of trying to speak louder up next to my ear.  I'd certainly tell you not to shout at me, though I'm lucky I haven't had to deal with screaming people all that much.   

As a side note, I'd politely ask you not to put toy instruments in my child's next goodie bag.  With the cochlear implant, I can hear them now, in addition to the ball bouncing and the snoring.  

In its place, please send some Advil.


  1. I remember someone saying that he gets quite upset when he tells people he's deaf and the reaction is “I'm sorry.” His reply goes, “I'm sorry you hear. I'm sorry you can't experience a moment of silence in a world where there is so much noise and nowhere you can go to find quiet.” I found his rebuttal poignant and beautiful, so I wanted to share. :) I agree that it's the misunderstanding that widens the divide between those who can hear and those who are deaf or gradually losing hearing. We have hearing aids, implants and methods that close the gap, and for that, I'm thankful.

  2. Thank you for sharing that, Kelsi. As you so eloquently point out, it's all about perspective. What a difference it makes when people take the time to learn about others' feelings as opposed to just making assumptions!