Thursday, February 28, 2013

Learning Your Child is Hearing Impaired (Part I)

We currently have a child who is hearing impaired. To what extent and whether it is a long term thing is still to be determined, but we're happy to be in the process of helping our little girl hear well again. We feel a combination of relief, stupidity, and guilt that it took us so long to realize it when the clues were there all along.

Before I tell you how we finally realized it, let me go back about three decades or so because the story really begins with me. Long ago I dreamed of becoming a teacher of the deaf (the first, shall we say, irony), but the truth is, God had different plans for me. I went off to a Christian college to become a teacher (I dreamed of specializing after that), hated it, came home after two years, took a diploma course in nursery/landscape at our local college, met my soul mate at church, married eleven months later, finished my diploma,  and worked in the field related to my diploma until I learned we were expecting. Then I became a stay-at-home mom to eventually four children. During this time I homeschooled for five years. (Funny how I still ended up being a teacher.) Eventually, God began a work in our hearts and we started the process of adding to our family through adoption. Those of you who have adopted know all about the enormous piles of paperwork that one must go through to bring a child home. In that pile of paper is a form that prospective parents tick off as to what they will and will not accept in regard to the health of a child. It sounds cruel yes, but when actually given the choice, most of us know what we are and are not able to handle in regard to health issues in a child. Among several other things, we ticked off that we would consider a child with hearing impairment. (The second irony). Having a child with hearing issues did not and does not frighten me/us. I've always had an interest in the hearing impaired, and been fascinated with ASL (American Sign Language) even though I don't know near enough. I am also blessed to have a wonderful sounding board in my friend Julie at Herding Grasshoppers. She's been through it all and is willing and able to help us out with any questions we might have.

Now you know why in some ways having a child who is hearing impaired isn't really a shock to us. So, how did we finally discover this? Well, to be honest, we should really have clued in even before we met Miss Bright Eyes because it said clearly in her medical that she was speech delayed. There could have been many varied reasons for that though, and truthfully it did crossed our minds that she might be hearing impaired, but unfortunately, it didn't put up a red flag for us.

Then came those tumultuous first two weeks in the Philippines. Adjusting to one new child (who is not a newborn) is difficult enough, let alone three children. They each had their own ways of dealing with the stress of this big change, but Bright Eyes was definitely the toughest. She had MAJOR melt downs and often multiple times per day. At this point of course we were simply thinking about the poor wee girl's feelings of fear and anger at yet another big change in her life, and the fact that she knew very little English. We never thought to factor in that she likely wasn't hearing half of what we were saying. How could she understand the tone and influx of our voices? She was likely going based mainly on the expressions on our faces and the garble (to her) that was coming from our mouths -- neither of which she was used to or could even make sense of at the time.

Once we arrived home, she seemed to settle in. The fits were fewer and fewer and by September were completely gone. She adjusted well to kindergarten. They'd all been to see our family doctor who didn't notice anything unusual. The one thing that continued to nag at me was how low and loud her voice was. She often caught colds that would linger, so I suspected that she might need her tonsils and or adenoids out eventually. She also couldn't carry a tune in a bucket if she tried and yet her little sister could sing pitch perfect. We knew she loved music though because she would listen to her big brother's head phones whenever given the opportunity, loved to bang away on his drums, and also liked to play on the piano when she had a chance (all things that given a certain pitch and volume she can hear).

By the summer (the one year home mark) we knew that they all understood English well enough to typically answer questions when asked. It was by this point that we started to really notice what we called her "deer in the headlights" look. When instructed to do something or ask a question, she would just look at us and kind of glaze over. Of course there had been warning signs, but we weren't catching them. We just thought she was being obstinate or dealing with some history that she didn't know how to put into words. We were very frustrated and embarrassingly for us, she suffered the consequences of  our frustration by spending a lot of time in time ins (sitting on a chair in the same room as Mom and Dad) or time outs because we didn't know what to do with her.

Her teacher at school was really frustrated too and there were lots of emails and phone calls back and forth. (I need to add here that Bright Eye's is in a very needy class. There are about 6-8 students in her grade that have some type of issue, learning and/or otherwise, so it is a busy class for both her and her teacher.) We weren't sure what to do with her as she was not only being uncooperative at home, but at school as well. Kindergarten had gone well, so why all the struggles in grade one? We're still not sure, but happily, we hit a turning point over Christmas holidays.

As is not unusual, Peanut had started a fuss upstairs one morning while they were getting dressed. I went up to see what was going on and why she was (fake) crying. (She's a fantastic little actress, our baby girl is.) She accused |Bright Eyes of pinching her. I asked Bright Eyes who immediately started to glazed over. I spoke slower and more clearly (more to keep myself from getting angry) and with a very neutral/ calm look on my face, and told her that I needed her to answer the question. She did! It wasn't a clear answer though and I wanted both sides of the story, so I asked Bright Eyes to sit on the chair in her room while I took Peanut to another room to quiz her. I told Bright Eyes she was not in trouble, but by the time I came back, giant tears were rolling down her cheeks (break my heart!). I explained to her again that she was not in trouble, and that Peanut admitted to being the culprit (not in those words of course), and that she was free to go in a clear and very intoned voice, and gave her a big hug. Remarkably, she has not pulled the deer in the headlights look since. She might start, but we then repeat ourselves slowly and clearly with a neutral or relaxed look on our face, and she responds. This is when I really began to suspect that she might have hearing issues.

I think school might have been back in session for about two weeks when I received yet another phone call from her teacher. This was the phone call I had been waiting for! "I think [Bright Eyes] has hearing issues!" her teacher stated. I was waiting to see if maybe I was imagining it and who better to confirm that I wasn't imagining it than her teacher. Right after that phone call,  I got the ball rolling to have her hearing tested. We've been to our family doctor and to our Children's Health Centre where all three Littles had their hearing tested. Her sisters have impeccable hearing (especially one of them), but Bright Eyes's hearing loss is significant enough that she goes to see a specialist on April 19.

These days she is a very happy contented little girl who yells "what!?" a lot. Her speech is remarkably clear for the impairment she has and the fact that English is not her first language. You will find that she studies your face closely for clues, but as long as you speak slowly and clearly, she understands you well enough that you wouldn't know that she struggles to hear what you're saying. She is happier at school now too, which I'm sure is a huge relief for her teacher!

When we first knew for sure that she was having difficulty hearing, I experimented one morning as I was doing her hair. She of course has her back to me when I do her hair, so I had a one sided conversation with her about the weather and how it was nice to see the snow falling. She didn't move a muscle. I began to wonder how she knew what I needed when I was doing her hair. She anticipates! If it's not the comb that I want, I wave my hand in front of her and she'll hand me the brush or an elastic instead until I have the right thing. I do that with all five girls, so I never noticed anything unusual about it. I'm amazed at how far this little girl has come despite the hurdles she has had to overcome! She really is a gift to our family!

Stay tuned for part two to this story after we see the specialist in late April!



  1. Thanks for this, Deborah. Good luck with the specialist! This sounds spot-on with what we are going through with Francis, but his initial hearing test came back fine. (I don't agree with the results). Many warm thoughts and prayers to all of you as you work through this!

  2. We experienced the same thing, we were having her evaluated for speech and after 5 minutes they came and asked me if I knew Phoebe was hearing impaired. She had been home for 2 years and I never realized she had trouble because she was working hard to compensate. it has been a long road but she had done best to you as you walk throuhg this

  3. Hi Deborah, thank you so much for your comment on my blog. I popped over here and was greatly blessed by your story and your family. I am so interested to see that we have a very similar story. We have four natural born children and adopted three as well. Are yours a sibling group? We have had many ups and downs through it all, and I can certainly relate to so much of what you shared, and was very comforted by reading it. We have only one left at home now. He is 17. We adopted the 3 of them 7 years ago. They are a sibling group. They are all doing well. We have had many challenges, but over all they have come such a long way, and so have we. I certainly understand the challenge of adapting, and not knowing all the problems at hand. How wonderful that you were able to figure this one out. What a beautiful family you have. they are all precious.

  4. As I read your blog post, I kept thinking that God knew exactly what He was doing --- that Bright Eyes is meant to belong to you! He's just awesome like that. :-)

  5. Deborah - It is wonderful to see God's GOOD plan, unfolding for all of you. He put your family together, and He knew what He was doing! Bright Eyes couldn't be in better hands :D My only "advice" is Don't beat yourself up for not identifying it sooner. With the (natural) turmoil of adoption, adapting to a new culture/school/family, and learning a new language, I don't know anyone who would've picked it up more quickly. Especially since she works so hard to compensate.

    And now you KNOW! Now you can help her :D (And you are, of course!)

    Keep us posted, and email me ANY TIME :D


  6. Wow! What a story and my prayers will definitely be with you as you start down this new path! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Parenting is amazing. It's wonderful and fulfilling. It's challenging and it's...... HARD!

    I'm so glad that you shared this story. There are so many things to watch for and pay attention to when raising little people into big people. I'm often heard telling my kids that, "I fixed the mistakes that my parents made just to make my own, and you will do the same."

    Some things though are really important. I'm praising the Lord with you that He in His wisdom brought this beautiful girl with a specific need to your specific home.

    Blessings, Debbie

  8. I'm so glad you got the hearing issue figured out. I can't imagine all the other things that you were dealing with minus the hearing. It's always the "not knowing" that is the hardest part.



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