Dealing with hearing loss: I can do it. So can you.

Shyann Harris


Shyann Harris

I was diagnosed with hearing loss in both ears when I was three years old. Throughout my 12 years of school, one of my biggest struggles has been not being able to hear the teacher or other students as well as I should be able to.  My years at school have been very difficult. I have missed some discussion in classes, and I have often had to sit up front in the classrooms in order to hear.

However, I am not alone.  Two or three out of every 1,000 children born in the United States are born with some level of hearing loss, according to the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders.  Around 15 percent of children between the ages of 6 through 19 have a chance of getting hearing loss in one ear, according to the Center for Hearing and Communication (which provides hearing health care for infants, children, and adults).

It was very difficult growing up around people who could hear, because I could not process the words being spoken around me.    My mom would be right in front of me, and I would not be able to hear her, unless I pulled my hair back behind my ears, watched her, and read her lips.

It’s rare to have hearing loss in both ears at such young age. Both of my parents are able to hear well. So, when I was diagnosed, they did not know the process of teaching a hearing-impaired child to learn.  Furthermore, throughout my younger years, I was delayed in talking and walking.

When I turned 16, I found a job at a fast-food place.  However, not even two months of working there, I was discriminated against by my co-workers and managers because of my hearing loss. I was treated horribly from something I could not control.

Even with these challenges, I never gave up in life.  Despite difficulty, I kept striving harder.  Even with my hearing loss, I was able to keep high grades.

If we can make progress in our understanding of hearing loss, with our technology, and with communication, then maybe children growing up now will not have to struggle the way I did.

First, adults need to learn about hearing loss, which can range from minor to significant and can range from temporary to permanent.  There are many causes of hearing loss: some children are born with hearing problems; some children lose hearing because of infections, injuries, loud music, or even after difficult births, according to “Help for Parents of Children with Hearing Loss” (WebMD), and the World Health Organization.

Hearing loss can cause children to have delays in speech and language development, according to Healthy Hearing, an advocacy organization.  It can also affect the quality of a person’s life – education, employment, and general well-being.  Children may have to work extra hard in school to understand, and some miss 50 percent of the classroom conversation.  The National Center for Biotechnology Information reports a 44 percent high school dropout rate, versus a 19 percent dropout rate among hearing high schoolers. (“Impact of Hearing Loss on Daily Life and the Workplace,” 2005).

I got approved for hearing aids after 14 years of the hearing loss, and I finally got them last month.    I had gone my whole life without being able to hear fully. Now, with the hearing aids, it is a life-changer for me.  Moreover, I was able to pick out my own hearing aid design – pink and sparkly – and, in this way, express myself more fully.

To all the adults who have children like me, my advice would be to get your child help right away.  About 96 percent of children who have hearing loss are born to parents who do not have it, according to the Journal of Clinical Ethics.  Dr. Poorna Kushalnagar, head author of the study, pointed out that the parents of these children may not be familiar with sign language and “will need information and support in making decisions” about the education of their children. (“Infants and Children with Hearing Loss Need Early Language Access,” April 7, 2011).

Although I never learned sign language, I would like to learn it in order to better communicate with others.  If we all learned American Sign Language in school, there would be more hope for people like me.

For those who want to know sign language, it is a visual language that uses hand gestures. People who develop hearing loss could learn to communicate through development of lip-reading skills, use of written or printed text, and sign language. Healthy Hearing, an advocacy organization, points out that “Parents who learn ASL along with their child often find it easier to communicate on a deeper level with their deaf child.”

Learning sign language would benefit children with hearing loss according to the World Health Organization (fact sheet on “Deafness and Hearing Loss,” March 2018), which has recommended the recognition of national sign languages, along with increasing the number of sign language interpreters.

Offering sign language at all schools would make it easier for people to better communicate with those who can’t hear. Some sources report that ASL is the third most common language.  In any case, the language would help plenty of friends and family to learn how to communicate with their deaf friend or family. With so many people suffering from hearing loss, offering sign language instruction at schools would help make a difference and would limit the gap between the deaf community and those who can hear.  Learning sign language would be a big improvement in society.

If you have a hearing loss and are struggling, then don’t let anyone say you cannot be someone in life due to the loss.  You can have people understand how it feels to have a hearing impairment and how different life is for you.  And you can make change.

You can be anyone you want.  Never give up on what you want to be in life.