Submitted by - Tamara K.B.
Several years ago, the Elks of Canada had a convention in my home town of Killarney, Manitoba. At that time, I was a single parent of three young boys, two of which had hereditary dual hearing losses. We partook in some of the Elk activities during the weekend convention, and then were asked to speak at the supper.
When Spencer was 2 ½ years old, we began to see some behavioural problems that gave us some concerns. I discussed my concerns with our family doctor who then organized several appointments with various specialists. Over the next 12 months, Spencer was put through various tests and monitoring sessions, but no one could come up with a specific diagnosis. I then decided that Spencer was just going to take different parenting skills than what I had used with his brother, who was one year older. Just before Spencer’s fourth birthday, we received a phone call from the audiologist department. They had received a request from our family doctor over a year earlier, however, their wait list for an appointment was 12-18 months.
I decided to attend the appointment and told myself this would be the last appointment I would take Spencer to. We were at the appointment for over 2 hours – Spencer was a trooper – and the audiologist discovered a low frequency moderate hearing loss. As a society, we are more accustom to people with a high frequency loss. A low frequency means you have difficulty with vowels, as well as people with low or mumbling voices. Most constants are still understood. For an example, Spencer could hear the two words “cook” and “cake”. He would hear both the beginning and end constants, but would have difficulty deciphering between the vowels. When we received this diagnosis, we were in the middle of moving back home to Killarney as we were living in Vancouver at the time. Once we settled in Killarney, Spencer began the process of testing, learning how to wear hearing aides, and extra educational assistance as we prepared for kindergarten. During this time, I began to notice similar problems with Spencer’s brother Max, who was two years younger. Almost immediately, I took him to the audiologist and he was also diagnosed with the same hearing loss. The audiologist felt it was hereditary and we were able to track it down on the boys’ paternal side through genetic testing.
The hearing loss never slowed the boys down. We had a terrific audiologist and hard of hearing instructor who both encouraged and expected the boys to always overcome any challenge they would face. Neither one ever took no for an answer. We made their hearing aides “fun” by always purchasing brightly coloured moulds. They were never shy to tell their friends and peers about their loss, as it was just part of our day to day life.
Spencer struggled in school a little more than Max did with his peers. As a Mom, this bothered me and I always wished he had more friends. One day when he was in Grade 7, I indirectly mentioned to him about finding a larger circle of friends and encouraged him to branch out a little more. He responded to me and said, “Mom, friendship is about quality not quantity and I have three quality friends.” Pretty profound for a 12 year old! I never questioned his social circle again!
One summer day when Max was about 6, we were at my Dad’s farm. One of Dad’s barn cats had been hit by a car on the highway, leaving behind 5 kittens. The kittens were old enough to take care of themselves, however, Dad noticed that one white one always seemed lost and did not always follow the others. We got in the car to drive home, and I noticed Max was silently crying in the back seat. I asked him what was wrong. He said “That kitten is deaf. I know what it feels like to be deaf and we need to take that kitten home.” We went back to see the kitten and he was right – the kitten was deaf. Max was now a proud owner of a white deaf kitten named Bella!
Both boys are now young men. Spencer is attending college in Brandon and has a passion for media. His post secondary education is focussed on radio and reporting. He is a very independent and determined 20 year old man who has the self confidence and drive that so many of us wish we had. Spencer was a very strong-willed young child and I had the school guidance counsellor tell me one day many years ago that if we can keep Spencer on the right path, that strong-will personality will make Spencer a very successful person – and it has. Spencer has always been wise beyond his years and has taught me so many valuable life lessons.
Max is finishing up his Grade 12 and is very academic. He was always the shy young brother and rarely spoke, as he had two big brothers to do that for him! In middle years, we felt his speech needed to be addressed again, and the school speech therapist suggested we put him in drama class in Grade 9. Max was very upset with us for that and refused to be in drama. We finally compromised and asked him to take it until Thanksgiving and we would re-evaluate at that time. Fortunately Max fell in love with drama and has been taking the class and acting in community productions ever since! He has even attended drama summer camps! He has been accepted to Brandon University to take his Bachelor of Science starting in September 2018. Ever since he was young, he has wanted to become an Audiologist. He was fortunate to shadow our audiologist for 80 hours during an Internship program in Grade 11. It is his plan to obtain a Masters in Audiology after receiving his BSc.