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Silent Symphony

As told to Leah Gebber

I was born into an almost silent world. I have aural atresia, a condition that robbed my left ear of hearing. Constant ear infections, which did not respond to treatment or surgery, left my hearing greatly reduced in my right ear. From when I was just a tiny baby, the quest began to help me live in the noiseless cacophony that surrounded me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I was taught to lip-read as a very young child, and I was also fitted with a bone-conductor hearing aid, an external device with a box that received sound and transferred it to the ear that still had some hearing. I couldn’t use a standard hearing aid, as the very ear canal was malformed. The hearing aid was an imperfect system, so in the classroom we also used an FM system. My teacher wore a transmitter around her neck, and I wore a loop that caught the sound. While I was able to make sense of the teacher’s words, I was cut off from any class discussion and the innumerable social interactions that took place around me. I was no outcast, though. I became an expert at reading nonverbal cues, of judging dynamics and conversations through people’s posture and facial expressions. I also learned to laugh along, even when I was oblivious to the joke. Still, I was known to be quiet and soft-spoken, and perhaps that masked the real me. When I matured and was able to process my school years, I was frustrated that the school hadn’t done more to make my life easier, to enable me to integrate better and more easily. For one thing, although I could hear my teachers, class discussions were hopeless. The teacher could have simply repeated each student’s contribution, so that I could have heard it. Despite my parents’ repeated requests, that didn’t happen. Alternatively, she could have appointed a girl to sit next to me who would help me figure out what was going on. I was often left with a vague feeling of disorientation. Things were going on around me, but I wasn’t sure quite what. By nature, I’m a leader; I’m outgoing and like to express my opinions. But all that was stifled during my school years, simply because I was trapped in silence.

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