We learned our son was deaf in one ear when he was three. We learned the condition was permanent when he was nine. But there was still so much to learn
Our son, William, was three when we took him to his first Raptors game 10 years ago. We sat in the rowdy Sprite Zone section, and each time I spoke to William, he turned his head and pulled me close to his right ear. It had never occurred to me before, but I was suddenly certain he had a hearing problem. I called our paediatrician the next morning and shortly after that, an audiologist confirmed that William was severely deaf in his left ear.
You may wonder how we could have missed this. There were no glaring clues. William had always been a happy, rambunctious toddler with an overactive imagination and a great vocabulary (including such words as ridiculous and innovative). I had sometimes noticed that he made slight mispronunciations (d rather than t, or p rather than b), but before information about infant-hearing screening was introduced (which, in Ontario, happened in 2002), it was typical for a unilateral (single ear) hearing loss to go undetected until a child started school. For our family, it was as if we’d been stumbling along in the dark and accidentally hit a light switch. Although I didn’t know it then, this would become a recurring theme.
Still, we counted ourselves lucky. William seemed well able to compensate with the normal hearing in his right ear, and by the beginning of kindergarten, he had been fitted with a bright blue hearing aid. Far from being self-conscious, William concocted a story about being attacked by a shark. He told his classmates he had to be rebuilt with electronics from the inside out. His hearing aid was the proof.
When the aid broke in the middle of grade one, the audiologist retested William’s hearing, this time by blocking sound to his good ear and having him repeat some simple words — farm, truck, hot dog — which were delivered directly to a more advanced hearing aid. The look on William’s face told me everything. Without his right ear, William hadn’t the faintest clue what was being said. While the aid made the sound louder, it did not make it any clearer.
This hit me harder than the initial diagnosis. Until then, we had assumed the aid would strengthen William’s hearing nerve and allow him to hear, but this test suggested otherwise. While the audiologist advised us to keep using it, we were disheartened.