An Audiologist’s Unique Perspective on Hearing Loss Shanna Mortensen with her son, Brenden Twelve years ago we experienced the miraculous birth of our first child, Brenden. I looked into his beautiful blue-brown eyes for the first time and was grateful for my perfect, healthy baby. For those first few hours I was entirely unaware that soon ... E-luminations
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E-luminations  |   March 01, 2012
An Audiologist’s Unique Perspective on Hearing Loss
Author Notes
  • Shanna Mortensen, B.S., is an AuD candidate in audiology at the University of Cincinnati. She can be reached at mortensm@mail.uc.edu.
    Shanna Mortensen, B.S., is an AuD candidate in audiology at the University of Cincinnati. She can be reached at mortensm@mail.uc.edu.×
Article Information
Hearing Disorders / E-luminations
E-luminations   |   March 01, 2012
An Audiologist’s Unique Perspective on Hearing Loss
The ASHA Leader, March 2012, Vol. 17, np. doi:10.1044/leader.EL.17032012.np
The ASHA Leader, March 2012, Vol. 17, np. doi:10.1044/leader.EL.17032012.np
Shanna Mortensen with her son, Brenden
Twelve years ago we experienced the miraculous birth of our first child, Brenden. I looked into his beautiful blue-brown eyes for the first time and was grateful for my perfect, healthy baby. For those first few hours I was entirely unaware that soon our lives would change forever: My perfect baby had a hearing loss.
In 1999, not all hospitals performed newborn hearing screenings, so we were fortunate to be in a hospital that did. In fact, this particular hospital had recently initiated the newborn hearing screening process a week prior to his birth, and the nurses were still learning the equipment. At first the nurse told us that Brenden had not passed his hearing screening, but “not to worry” because no other infants were passing either.
A few hours later, however, we learned that the other infants had passed except for Brenden. When I asked what that meant, the nurse calmly replied, “That means your child is deaf.” Shocked, I was sure the nurse simply was not competent in her hearing testing abilities. After all, no member on either side of the family had hearing loss, so neither could our perfect little Brenden. At the time, my only exposure to deafness was the movie “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” I thought deafness was an all-or-nothing type of thing. I didn’t realize there were various degrees of hearing loss. We were encouraged to follow up with his pediatrician and an audiologist about the hearing screening results, which in my mind was completely unnecessary. I knew my child did not have a hearing problem.
Luckily for us, we were in Phoenix, where they were ahead of the game in early intervention. The Early Childhood and Family Education Program coordinator at the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf contacted us. She asked us how we were doing and offered to send a parent advocate to our home to give us information about hearing loss. At the time, I was still performing my own tests (I would make loud noises and clash things together to get Brenden’s attention, all of which seemed to work), but I welcomed the idea of having a parent advocate.
She also asked if we had followed up with an audiologist and stressed the importance of having a more thorough hearing test. I had not followed up with an audiologist because I was told he needed to be sedated for the testing. She assured me that it was safe and necessary to confirm any degree of his hearing loss. I took him for testing when he was 2 months old.
Walking into the clinic, I had mixed emotions. I was confident the tests would show Brenden was normal, but in the back of my mind I was terrified to find out that he was deaf. Ultimately the tests showed that Brenden had moderate to severe sensorineural hearing loss. I was devastated to be told he would probably have to use sign; that he would never hear music very clearly; and that if he did talk, his speech would sound like deaf speech. The audiologist also told me Brenden would need to use hearing aids, which was another foreign (and expensive) concept to me.
She handed me what I like to call the “dooms list” that explains everything your child will struggle with and have difficulty with and may or may not be able to do depending on the specific degree of hearing loss. As she explained everything to me, I felt numb and fought back tears. I don’t think I retained any information from that appointment other than the fact that my child could not hear.
The cost of hearing aids for us—young parents—was out of reach. We were fortunate that The Ear Foundation in Arizona helped cover the cost and Brenden was fitted with his first set of hearing aids at was 6 months old. We were encouraged to keep his hearing aids on him all waking hours—extremely difficult when he was teething and constantly pulling them out. And of course, I was paranoid about them getting wet or lost due to the replacement cost. The audiologist’s explanation of the care and use of the hearing aids was completely overwhelming and I did not retain much of that information. I was more concerned about how the hearing aids looked on his tiny ears.
At this point, early intervention helped save us from the hearing loss blues. After Brenden received his hearing aids, the parent advocate came to our home. She was educated in hearing loss and went over the hearing aid care with us again. She brought a hearing aid kit with all the necessary items (batteries, cleaning tools, battery tester, listening tool, etc.) to keep at our home. She also brought a binder for us with handouts explaining everything she discussed.
What early intervention did for us is only a fraction of what it did for Brenden. He was able to hear from a young age and did not miss out on language. Early intervention also helped us to accept Brenden’s hearing loss and to help him to be successful. It did not make everything perfect but I can’t imagine what things would have been like for all of us if we did not have it, especially when Brenden was young. We attended parent groups, which helped get us through the grief and frustrations associated with having a child with hearing loss. It was incredibly helpful to meet other parents who had older children because it gave us hope that Brenden would have a happy and normal life.
Having a child with a hearing loss has altered our lives, but not in a bad way. We have learned to be better communicators, we have a strong family bond, and we experience the same comedy most children bring to a home, except ours typically involves hearing loss. When Brenden’s younger brother pesters him, Brenden simply turns off his hearing aids. Of course, that makes his brother angry and I will hear, “Mom, Brenden turned off his hearing aids so he doesn’t have to listen to me!”
Today, Brenden is 12 years old. He amazes me. He is an accomplished pianist and plays at the Preparatory for the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is an honor roll student and loves math and science. He also loves to dance. His speech is very clear and he is happy and confident, especially with his hearing loss.
Brenden’s hearing loss and our experiences have been the driving force behind my creation of a parent support website. For the past nine years, I have been involved in various activities through which I meet parents in situations similar to my own. Some parents take a proactive approach to their child’s hearing loss; many struggle to work through the emotional phases of denial or sadness, even as their children grow older. They almost seem to believe that their child had no hope. I believe how an audiologist breaks the news to families, as well as having a good early intervention program, is crucial to the success of the parents and child. It is my firm conviction that when children and their families learn to accept hearing loss readily upon diagnosis and view it as something that can be overcome, they are better equipped to conquer future challenges.
Our experience also has led me to pursue my clinical audiology doctorate. I am attending the University of Cincinnati and preparing to start my fourth-year externship. I am grateful to those who encouraged me to start this journey as well as the professors at the University of Cincinnati who took a chance on me and have supported me. Being a single parent and chasing my dream has been difficult but certainly doable. Sure, there have been obstacles and some individuals who didn’t think I was cut out for audiology, but Brenden’s success and confidence have kept me going forward. Brenden is proud of who he is and is thrilled that I am becoming an audiologist. He tells everyone that I’m becoming a doctor “just for him.” Seeing his excitement and confidence confirms to me that I have made the right decision.
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March 2012
Volume 17, Issue 3