Thursday, October 16, 2014


"Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes good things need to fall apart before better things can fall together."

I really, really, really hate this sentiment. It seems like a cliche phrase that attempts to make people who experience misfortune feel better about their unfortunate circumstance. I don't believe that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes things just happen.

I have searched long and hard for that proverbial "silver lining" in my sudden hearing loss.
  • I sleep through thunderstorms. I sleep through pretty much everything now. That can be good. Unless you cannot hear the tornado sirens because you are sleeping so soundly without your hearing devices.
  • I can take a hearing break anytime the noisy humdrum of the world becomes too much. Discreetly turning the volume of my cochlear implant down to one or slipping the magnet completely off my head are two of my secret guilts. I can turn the world off if I want to.
  • I can even admit that I've purposely ignored the call of my name from the end of the school corridor when I was busily attending to tasks that needed my attention more -- pretty certain that the caller dismisses it because I have a hearing loss.
Honestly, though, these things aren't a silver lining. They are merely consequences of my hearing loss. And consequences can be good, as well as bad. Sometimes, I'm acutely aware of how my hearing loss affects my perception of events and my decisions and actions. And I believe that at times, I may be appointed by a higher power to be in a certain place and time.

I found such an appointment recently while working with a child in my first grade classroom. He came to me from a kindergarten classroom where he had spent two years. His kindergarten teacher had referred him for psychological testing for a learning disability. One of the concerns listed on his paperwork was his poor listening ability and inability to follow simple directions. Because he came from a Spanish-speaking family, his learning problems were attributed to his lack of English understanding. It didn't take me long to notice that he didn't speak in Spanish, either. Clearly, this child was nonverbal in either language. This raised all sorts of red flags for me. I spoke to his father and learned that he had been born prematurely and had a lot of problems at birth. His father confirmed my observation that his son's learning problems were not related to his English learning because he couldn't communicate in Spanish either.

I began to notice that there were distinct patterns in this child's communication. Having taken a beginning sign language class, I had incorporated simple hand signs for bathroom, water, and teacher help in my classroom. He readily learned and used them. While reading, he watched my mouth instead of the printed words, even when I turned his head to the book. He responded to directions when he faced me, but if I was behind him, he was unresponsive. He didn't respond to calls to move from place to place in the classroom or to change activities. He missed verbal cues, but he could follow visual cues. He mimicked speech, but didn't produce his own words. I believed his learning problems were not cognitive. I believed he wasn't learning because he couldn't hear.

The defining moment occurred when I expressed my concern to his speech-language therapist that he might have a hearing loss. She said that she had suspected the same thing, but that he had passed his hearing screening. She told me that he was doing a lot better, however, and proceeded to have him repeat words she spoke, which he did very well. But I told her I believed he was speech-reading her, and I went behind him and repeated the same words she said, "Say, 'apple.'" Nothing. "Say, 'yellow.'" Nothing. Again.

Since this time, we have been able to contact our school district's audiologist and express our concern about this child's hearing. We have requested a full hearing evaluation. I am anxiously awaiting the appointment.

Some people are calling me a hero. "You saved that boy's life," they say. They are saying I noticed because I am deaf, and I am more aware of hearing problems. "Why, of course the deaf lady would notice a hearing problem." Some say it's the reason for my hearing loss. The "better thing" that has come from my misfortune. They say it's God's hand. My silver lining. To be in this time and in this place. My divine appointment.

I like to think they're right, in a way. But maybe it's more than that. Maybe it's just what happens when a teacher's love and experience connects her with her students in ways others cannot understand. And she notices what others miss. Not because she's special or different or even --- deaf. But because she has learned to see.

**You can read more in another post that tells what became of my student following his diagnosis of profound hearing loss:


  1. ...subsequent tests showed that my student had profound hearing loss in both ears and suspected auditory neuropathy. He was placed, correctly this time, in a deaf ed classroom in my school district where he is learning sign language. He also continues learning oral language with the help of a special speech pathologist. He is mainstreamed with his hearing peers for classes in art, PE, and music. Since I met this little boy, I have been helpful in finding 5 other children with hearing loss in my little elementary school.

  2. Yes, I do believe in teacher radar going up when we see any child having difficulties. You did what a truly caring teacher would do, deaf, or, not. You are such an inspiration, Bonnie, take the bow you have earned.

  3. considering the number of children you have identified as having hearing problems I have to wonder how many children are in our schools with diagnosed hearing problems

    1. According to the NIH, hearing loss in children and youth is 2 - 3 in 100. Acquired noise-induced hearing loss are estimated to be about 12% for kids aged 6-19 and 20% for adults in their 20's. I don't know the range of hearing loss for these stats -- it could range from mild to profound. MP3 players, loud music, sports stadiums, and fireworks are listed as the main causes of noise-induced among children.

  4. I wonder if your district needs to evaluate how they do preschool hearing screenings. How are these kids passing??

    1. Lisa, in Oklahoma hearing and vision screenings are only offered to parents, they are not done automatically. Parents must sign and return a permission slip. In my school, we typically get a handful from each classroom, except for mine. I usually get 100%. This is something I'd like to get changes. If NEA adopts the motion, too, I plan to contact my state legislators to see about getting the hearing and vision screening a requirement throughout children's school careers -- like other states have done.