Sunday, February 20, 2005

On raising a child with disabilities, part 5: Deaf and *dumb*?!!!—concerning hearing loss of various degrees

Lo t’kalel cheresh (Do not mock the deaf . . . )“ (Parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus chapter 19, verse 14)

When our son was first being tested for disabilities, the people at the hospital tested his intelligence before they tested his hearing. We were told that he was borderline retarded.

Two years and two hearing aids later, our son’s intelligence was suddenly borderline superior, a jump of roughly 25 points.

So who’s “dumb” here?

. . .v’lifnei iver lo titen michshol (and in front of a blind person do not put a stumbling block) . . . (Parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus chapter 19, verse 14)

On a related subject, the daughter of one of my best friends was also nearly diagnosed mentally retarded until one of her more intelligent doctors suggested that perhaps she needed to have her vision checked.

I’ve happy to report that one of these two children is now a fine arts major and the other is now a physics major.

How can any health professional be dumb enough to test a child’s intelligence without knowing whether or not the child’s hearing and vision are normal, given that just about every intelligence test is designed on the assumption that the person taking the test can hear and see normally? If you can’t hear the question properly, how can you answer it? If you can’t read the question or see the object about which you’re being questioned, how can you answer correctly?

Returning to the subject of hearing loss, it’s time for a clarification: The functional definition of deafness is the inability to hear well enough to understand speech. Just because a deaf person jumps when you clang a pair of cymbals behind his head doesn’t mean that he’s not deaf.

And let me continue with some words of advice:
1. Parents of newborns can now have their child’s hearing tested shortly after birth. Do it! If there’s a problem, the sooner you begin to deal with it, the better.
2. Don’t think that you’re in the clear just because your kid’s hearing was tested at birth. Accidents, illness, and/or heredity can cause your child to develop a hearing loss at a later age. (We think our son became hard of hearing as a result of his first ear infection when he was less than a year old.)
3. Odd as this may sound (you should pardon the expression), parents of the deaf have one advantage over parents of the hard of hearing: Since deaf kids respond to almost nothing audible, including their names, they’re often diagnosed at a much younger age. Hard of hearing children often trick their parents into complacency because they respond to a great deal and often speak in a fashion that their parents can deceive themselves into thinking is just “delayed” or even “cute.” I’ve heard of hard of hearing children first being diagnosed at ages as late as 6 or 7. If ever you hear anything odd or unusual about your child’s speech, if their pronunciation is noticeably worse than that of many children their age, or if their pronunciation deteriorates after an illness or accident, run, do not walk, to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) and an audiologist CCC (with a certificate of clinical competency) and have your child’s ear health checked and hearing tested as soon as possible!
4. Be aware that the communications challenges that children with hearing problems face can cause delays in your child’s develop of appropriate social skills, not to mention their academic skills. The sooner your child learns to communicate—by whatever means possible—the better.

This brings me to Pet Peeve Number One concerning hearing loss. Some people with mobility challenges use one cane. Some use 2 canes. Some use walkers. Some use crutches. Some use braces, with or without any other support device. Some use manually-operated wheelchairs. Some use electric wheelchairs. But nobody expects a person in a motorized wheelchair to suddenly get up and walk with a cane! So why do people think that every single deaf person on earth should be able to speak clearly and read lips fluently? Some can and some can’t. What’s the big deal? I have absolutely no patience with people who discriminate against those who use sign language. Language is not the same thing as speech. The ability to communicate is what’s important. It shouldn’t matter what method is used, as long as the goal is reached.

My Pet Peeve Number Two is that many people refuse to use hearing aids because they’re vain. Gimme a break! First of all, would anyone rather stay in bed for the rest of his/her life than use a wheelchair? Second, shouldn’t everyone care about communicating with their parents, spouse, kid(s) and grandkid(s), boyfriend or girlfriend, friends, co-workers? Shouldn’t everyone care how the people they love will feel when they can’t talk to you anymore?

My Pet Peeve Number Three is that almost no insurance plan pays for hearing aids. Nobody ever said that having a disability was cheap.

Update--Here are some links that might be helpful:

National Association of the Deaf,
(Thursday, April 28, 2011 update: National Association of the Deaf)

Self-Help for Hard of Hearing People SHHH,

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), "the professional, scientific, and credentialing association for more than 115,000 members and affiliates who are audiologists, speech-language pathologists, and speech, language, and hearing scientists,"



Blogger Moze said...

I finally diagnosed my son's 50% hearing loss when he was in the middle of 6th grade. Until then his teachers would tell him he wasn't applying himself, that he was dreaming too much, that he wasn't cooperating. After I realized he simply wasn't hearing half of what was going on and got him an assistive listening device, his grades went from 65-70 to 95-100.

The biggest struggle we had wa not getting him to wear the FM-LD or getting his friends to accept his wearing it, but getting his teachers to wear their half of the device. Thank G-d there is an organization here in Israel, Shema, that did a terrific job of working with us to pressure his teachers.

Sun Feb 20, 08:55:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a point of information...

The word _dumb_ in the phrase "deaf and dumb" originally just meant 'mute', not 'stupid' as it's used today.

-Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)

Sun Feb 20, 05:09:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

That's true enough, Steg, but the fact that the term is still used today, even though the meaning of the word "dumb" has changed radically, is certainly an indication of stupidity on the part of the users.

Sun Feb 20, 05:41:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Moze, hearing loss is commonly misdiagosed as mental retardation, learning disability, attention deficit disorder, just plain stubborness, laziness, and/or defiance, and who knows what else. I help to help parents avoid these errors. I'm delighted to know that your son now uses an FM unit--for the uninitated, that's literally an FM transmitter that broadcasts directly into the user's hearing aids or ears--and that the teachers have been strong-armed into using the microphone part of the unit.

Sun Feb 20, 05:48:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Hear I go again, making errors in my comments--that was supposed to read, "I hope to help parents . . . " Sigh. I need more sleep.

Sun Feb 20, 05:50:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the parent of a child (now 19) who was diagnosed with a severe-profound loss at 1 year, wore hearing aids, and has now had two cochlear implants "installed" I'd be glad to answer any of your questions. Our daughter is on USY Nativ in Israel and doing fine academically, socially and Jewishly. There are lots of misconceptions and well-meaning but under-informed medical and education professionals out there. The more you know the better your child will do.


Wed Feb 14, 01:07:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Jim, thanks for the offer, and I'm glad to hear that your daughter is doing so well. How could a person contact you for further information?

Wed Feb 14, 10:26:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How does your child wear their hearing aids on Shabbat? (As turning them off/on or changing the settings would be prohibited) How do others utilize an FM-LD for shul?

Sat Sep 13, 07:40:00 PM 2008  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Anon., sorry to keep you waiting.

My mother, whose hearing loss has been worse than our son's for roughly 40 years, puts new batteries into her hearing aids before Shabbat and Yom Tov. I understand that the batteries for stronger hearing aids tend to run out of power quite suddenly and without warning, so putting in new batteries as a precautionary measure is a good idea.

Since our son is fortunate enough to have only a mild-to-moderate hearing loss and functions quite well with hearing aids alone, he doesn't need an FM Unit and/or other Assistive Listening Device, so we've never had to ask about their use on Shabbat and Yom Tov. I would suggest that you consult a rabbi, perhaps one associated with the Orthodox-Union-supported Our Way for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing. Go to and click on their NCJD/Yachad tab.

Tue Sep 16, 08:37:00 PM 2008  

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