Oticon Alta

On Becoming an Audiologist

I believe everything happens for a reason.

For me, this statement reflects the significant and positive influence that hearing loss had on my growth and development. My introduction to audiology occurred when I was five years old. My pre-school teacher noted that my speech was abnormal and that I was ''missing'' some sounds when I spoke.

Upon having my hearing tested, my parents learned I had a bilateral high-frequency moderate-severe hearing loss, possibly due to complications when I was born or from medications I was given as a child. My hearing loss was precipitous, which meant I could hear normally through the low tones, but then at a certain high pitch, I experienced a sharp drop in hearing.

Since normal conversational speech depends heavily on high frequency sounds to differentiate words, and because I was not able to hear those high pitched sounds, I didn't make the correct sounds when I spoke. The result was a speech impediment.

This is actually a common reason for ''deaf speech.'' Many people who have hearing loss since birth, or are born deaf, are not able to hear certain soft sounds of speech, and therefore, they don't reproduce speech sounds they cannot hear!

I was fitted with my first set of hearing aids, a pair of Behind-The-Ear (BTEs) aids. During my elementary school years, I didnt think anything of them and I wore them willingly. If the other kids noticed my hearing aids, they were certain to be curious. However, once I explained, they would just shrug and move onto the next topic, it was nothing special. I received speech therapy once a week at school to help correct my speech problem, primarily with soft sounds, ''s'' and ''z'' in particular.

I remember an incident that occurred during those elementary school years. During recess, one of my hearing aids fell out. Perhaps I was too wrapped up with hanging onto the monkey bars to notice, but when I went inside, one BTE was no longer in my ear! I came home crying from school, ashamed and expecting the worst from my parents. To the astonishment of my 4th grade mind, my mother comforted me. After a few phone calls, several janitors and staff members searched the playground. It was reported that my teacher had found the hearing aid and discarded it thinking it was a piece of gum with some trash stuck to it!

By the time I reached middle school, I saw a different attitude from my peers regarding my hearing disability. Despite uncertainty and insecurity which is to be expected during adolescent years, I had what I considered to be additional baggage. I became an outcast and it was harder to make friends. I experienced mockery and I would often come home from school and cry into my pillow.

The emotional baggage and frustrations increased and soon I was refusing to wear my hearing aids at school. At that time, I believed anything was better than having two ''hooks'' behind my ears, even if it meant I had to pretend to understand what people around me were saying -- even my teachers.

Relying mainly on facial cues, gestures, and speech reading, I somehow made it through those years, exhausted, but amazingly, without academic problems.

By the time I reached high school, my audiologist suggested less visible In-The-Ear (ITE) hearing aids to replace my old BTEs. Though the BTE s offered me maximal hearing, I was so against wearing them, the audiologist and my parents figured the ITEs were better than nothing!

I wore the ITEs all through high school. To the delight of my parents and my audiologist, a change was seen in my behavior and attitude. As I adjusted to my new hearing aids, I became more social and more confident, and I began to realize that hearing loss was part of who I was - and not a liability.

I graduated from high school with honors, got new ITEs that summer and started college the following fall. My years at college were wonderful, arguably the best time of my life. In fact, much of the wonder I experienced during those years was due to my hearing loss.

During my sophomore year of college, I decided audiology was to be my profession. My confidence was soaring. I developed a profound interest in hearing science and clinical audiology. I saw myself as a bright, social, determined young woman with a hearing loss who wanted to make the most of my abilities and take advantage of opportunities that would enhance my development.

I volunteered during the summer to work at my audiologists office and at a local hospital. I took a job at an audiologists office near my school and began a minor in speech pathology and audiology. I joined the New Jersey State Association of Hearing Health Professionals (NJAHHP) as a student member. To better prepare myself as a candidate for competitive graduate programs in audiology, and at the recommendation of my mentors, I began a minor in biology before graduating from college last May.

After graduation, I started to have problems with my hearing aids. Since I was over 18 years of age, the purchase of new aids would be an out-of-pocket expense. My parents, had another daughter in college, and a son with a neurological disorder that required expensive medications, were unable to help me with this purchase.

Fearing what graduate school would be like without hearing aids, I figured I would just have to jump in headfirst and pray that my hearing aids didnt totally quit on me. At that time, my employer and mentor, who also happened to be the president of the NJAHHP, told me he had a wonderful belated graduation gift for me. He and his colleagues made some phone calls on my behalf, and Phonak had agreed to donate a set of digital BTE's (Claro's) to me!

I could hardly believe it. I felt like I had won the lottery! Another audiologist, who had set up a fund for students with hearing disabilities, was going to purchase a new FM system, the Phonak Microlink, for me! This cordless microphone is programmed to work with my aids to enhance the listening experience in a variety of situations. My new hearing aids are simply wonderful and allow me to hear things even better than the ones I've been wearing for the past 10 years. The Microlink FM system is going to make a world of difference when I begin graduate school in the fall (2003). I am happier and more confident than ever before and this is just the beginning.

I know audiology is the profession I belong in. My enthusiasm continues to grow as the profession advances. I will be attending my first professional conference next week and will give formal thanks to all those who have been so generous to me.

Not too long ago, I received another present from a former audiologist. My former employer and mentor had mentioned my story to one of his colleagues, who happened to be my first audiologist (from my pre-school days). Remembering my name, he noted that he remembered me because as a child, I always brought him drawings when I went to his office. Back at the office, he looked up my old file and stumbled upon a business card that lay amongst the papers. On one side was his business information. On the reverse side was a picture I had drawn for him -- rainbows, flowers, and butterflies. At the top of the picture I had written my name in big, shaky letters. Sensing the sentimental value of the card, he gave it back to me. I keep in my scrapbook.

My hearing loss has imposed certain limitations on me. However, it has also given me a sense of determination that others may never experience in quite the same way. It has provided a foundation from which my strengths as a young woman, student, daughter, sister, and friend are based. Perhaps my strong personal convictions would be the same if I didn't have a hearing loss.

All I know with certainty that my personal experience with hearing loss, as well as the generous and compassionate thoughts and deeds of others, will be an asset for me while attaining my future professional and personal goals.

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