I read a german post yesterday in which a foster mother tells about her struggle finding a place in kindergarten for a child with special needs. It reminds me of the challenges my family faced in the 1970s.
Today, children in Germany are monitored closely to detect problems as early as possible. Back then, we saw our pediatrician for vaccinations and when we were ill. In my case, nobody noticed that I was dear on the left ear. Delayed speech development was explained with my premature birth.
After a infection of my right middle ear in my last year of kindergarten, my mother noticed that something was seriously wrong with my hearing, and that I didn’t react when she called me. This started an odyssey.
I remember the following tests very clearly. Doctors and hearing aids technicans were not prepared to deal with children. My mother was not allowed to be in the same room with me during the tests, even though I made it clear through crying and screaming that I didn’t want her to leave. Nobody even tried to tell me what was going on. I was a clever child, I would have understood an explanation suitable for children. I was expected to behave compliant and calm, as an adult would do. Of course I couldn’t do that, and many unpleasant experiences piled up. I became anxious and shy and regressed. My mother had to be near me all the time. It was a hard time for my mother, too. She just could stand there and watch everything.
Finally the results came in. Not only had the middle ear infection affected the hearing in the right ear, but I apparently was completely deaf in the right ear, too. This, too, was explained with my premature birth. A hearing aid was adjusted for my right ear, and we were sent our way. A hearing aid technican told me a few years ago, that some of her colleagues now have special training to treat children. I hope there are many of them.
Then I was tested for school readiness. I refused to participate. I knew the answer to all of the questions, but I was way too nervous. I kept squirming around on the chair and wanted to leave the room, because I knew my mother waited outside. At this time, children were given the oppurtunity to have a special year of preschool between kindergarten and school. This really saved me. We were a small group of ten children, all with special needs. We had a teacher and an assistant teacher. It was a lot like school, we learned to sit at our desk and started writing and counting. I slowly got used to my hearing aid.
Then I started “really” going to school, at a special school for deaf children. Teachers used sign language and spoken language simultaneously. All of my classmates were using sign language. I didn’t know anything about sign language, so I wasn’t able to really talk to them.
At this point, I could read fluently and was well into learning how to write. The classes bored me. What I didn’t know then, pupils at this school were given two years to learn what was thaught in one year at the normal primary schools. The teachers quickly noticed I was bored, and told my parents I would be better off at a regular primary school. And my parents somehow made it happen.
I was very glad because many of my new classmates were living in my neighborhood, and I knew them. It took me some time to catch up with them, but that was easy. To orient myself in a large group of 25 people was hard, especially during the breaks or physical education with lots of noise.
Meanwhile, my speach had been affected by my poor hearing. I slurred words and it was difficult to understand what I said. I started logotherapy. Hopefully it is more fun for children today. We were shown posters with many objects drawn on them, the therapist pointed at one of those objects and we had to say what it was. Once again, no explanations what we were doing, or why. This training was continued at home, we had a book with pictures in it and I had to say what was in those pictures. The practice payed off, though, I learned to speak quite well. I still slurr the “S”-sounds, my husbands says it sounds like lisping. But apart from that, my pronounciation is similar to that of a person with normal hearing.
So far, so good? I am aware of the fact that I was very lucky.
1.) My mother fought like a lioness that I get adequate therapies and help. She tirelessly worked with me, so
a) what I didn’t hear in class, I would learn later at home, so I didn’t fall behind,
b) my pronounciation was good, and I wasn’t picked on by classmates.
2.) My father was a high school teacher. So
a) money wasn’t an issue. I always got the therapies and expensive hearing aids I needed,
b) my mother could be a stay-at-home-mum and had the time to work with me,
c) being a techer himself, he was able to talk with other teachers and principals eye to eye. This gave me opportunities others don’t have.
My parents motto was: Demand and encourage. I was expected to adapt completely to the hearing world. This was no problem as my intelligence was concerned, but it took years for me to admit that some things are, and always will be, impossible for me. This is not my fault, and I can’t change it, either. Period.
What made our situation even more difficult was the fact that we didn’t know any families facing the same problems, or advice centres. And we didn’t have something like the internet back then. We fought this battle on our own, as well as we could.
0 and 40: Part 1