This is based on something I heard just after my daughter was diagnosed with a major hearing loss:
- If I could choose to be born blind or deaf, I’d choose to be born blind.
- If I could choose to lose my sight or hearing when I was 12 years old, I’d choose to lose my hearing.
These observations are based on things I never thought about until my daughter’s disability was known. Very young children learn most things through their hearing. Their speech, language and vocabulary are all available through the sense of hearing and absolutely vital for their future education and knowledge of the world around us.
As adults we think of the loss of sight as the greatest impairment we could have and it would be – for us. We’ve already learned
to navigate in the world using our eyes and the concept of not being able to drive or read a regular book or watch TV or do one of the millions of tiny things we do simply because we can see, frightens us no end. While it would be traumatic for a child of 12
to lose their sight, their very youth would help them make the adjustments they need to get around in a world where vision is so important. But losing their hearing would be much less disturbing for a 12 year old or even an adult.
However, the devastation that occurs to a hearing impaired child’s life and learning is almost impossible to explain. I did very specific things with and for my daughter once we had a correct diagnosis of her problem. However, the fact is that although I managed to diagnose her problem even before she went to the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary, I initially thought my daughter was mentally disabled, not hearing impaired. A child with a hearing loss is unable to respond to verbal clues.
After her brothers were born I suddenly noticed that my daughter almost never babbled as all babies do. Her brothers, beginning at a very young age, would make all kinds of sounds and gurgle and coo. I, like all parents, thought of those sounds as
cute and instinctively knew they were the precursor to speech and they are. But they are also a way to improve and increase the muscle and neural connections in the face and mouth to allow a child to pronounce the proper sounds for language as they begin to talk.
Under no circumstances am I trying to say that being blind is ‘better’ than being deaf. It isn’t. Both disabilities are devastating to the child and the family. I’m simply stating what the head of an organization said to me and my own observations. After dealing with children who were either blind or deaf, I saw the differences in their disabilities and how the children could navigate in a world that depends on an individual having both sight and hearing.
Blind children would have problems physically navigating. But their language, their book knowledge from being able to read Braille, was far superior to anything the deaf children could do even when they were older than a blind child. Because the blind children had never seen colors or known what sight was like, they didn’t have the sense of loss that an adult or older child would have. In fact, blind children usually do quite well in school and will graduate with their peers who can see.
Hearing impaired children are at a huge disadvantage in school. Most children enter 1st grade with a vocabulary of around 10,000 words. The children don’t use all those words and they aren’t likely to be able to pronounce them all correctly. But the
children have heard the words, perhaps experimented using them and understand the context in which they should be used. My daughter started school at the age of three because of her disability. At 6 years old she had a vocabulary of around 75 words. I know the amount because I have a reel-to-reel tape of her using those words and responding to what I’d say to her. My daughter didn’t learn her alphabet until she was 11 years old and she never really heard the multitude of children’s stories that my boys had heard and knew. My boys would ask all kinds of questions about the stories. The evening story hour was, for my daughter, a time to cuddle and sleep.
Because of the various techniques I used with my daughter, her severe hearing loss was mitigated to some degree. Normally, a
child with her loss would have gone to a school for the deaf and in that situation, the loss of hearing usually has a deaf child around 4 years behind similar aged child without the loss. Instead, she went to a school for the hearing impaired where she was
only two years behind other children her age.
It is important that my readers understand that there are many differences in the amount and kind of blindness and deafness in these children. However, all of my observations and knowledge of blind children and deaf children have proven the truth of the statements at the beginning of this post:
If I could choose to be born blind or deaf, I’d choose to be born blind but if I could choose to lose my sight or hearing when I was 12 years old, I’d choose to lose my hearing.