Why School Hearing Loss Screenings Are So Important
When people learn I am hard of hearing, one of the most frequent questions I get is, “What triggered your hearing loss?”
This is a weird question to answer for me. Personally, I was born with a 20 to 30 percent hearing loss. I’ve never lived with perfect hearing, so nothing really triggered me to lose it. Most of the time I just respond that the hairs in my ears weren’t finished developing at the time of my premature birth. I also find it interesting how many people jump to the conclusion that a disease induced my hearing loss – because that’s a rather large assumption to make about my health.
In hindsight, what I do find odd is how late doctors diagnosed me as being hard of hearing. I was in kindergarten. One might wonder why I wasn’t diagnosed at birth, and to that, I blame procedures and legislation. At the time of my birth in December 1997 in Winnipeg, Canada, nothing required or encouraged doctors to screen if babies were hard of hearing at birth.
I was 5 or 6 years old when I was diagnosed with being hard of hearing. This diagnosis led to years of speech therapy to help catch me up on speech impediments I gained from not being able to properly hear words – most notably a lisp which I haven’t been able to get rid of entirely.
I don’t consider my hearing loss to be a burden, as it’s part of who I am, but I wish it would have been diagnosed at birth. I think it would have saved me a lot of frustration when I was a toddler and I couldn’t hear whispers and didn’t know why, and years of speech therapy where I often felt embarrassed that I couldn’t pronounce words correctly. I currently live in the United States, where many states have legislation either requiring or encouraging hearing loss screenings at birth. For example, in Massachusetts, hospitals require babies to be screened for hearing loss unless parents object under religious grounds.
While it’s good that many American hospitals are starting to encourage or require screening for hearing loss, this isn’t the case throughout the world, like it wasn’t for me in Winnipeg. This is why I believe it’s incredibly important that all American schools screen kids for hearing loss, so immigrants like myself don’t fall through the cracks.
My public school system in Massachusetts, Weston Public Schools, screens kids for hearing and vision loss from kindergarten all the way through the end of middle school – free of charge to families. That’s how it should be in my opinion. Having a hearing loss, or any kind of disability, is far from a problem, but having a diagnosis and then learning skills to help one navigate life with a disability or disabilities can be useful.
I’ve definitely benefited from being diagnosed as being hard of hearing, albeit later than I would have preferred. I went from being hard to understand in English to completing graduate level-coursework in a foreign language after my freshman year of university. Other kids who are hard of hearing deserve to have the ability to succeed in academics like I did, but for many, this needs to start with a diagnosis, whether at birth or at school.