November 17, 2010

Hearing Aid Peek-a-Boo

I have a student who wears a behind the ear hearing aid. It is pink with cute little flower stickers on it. But, most people who don't know her would not know this. She usually hides her hearing aid with her long hair, at least at school.

I have told her many times that she shouldn't hide who she is and that perhaps she should try some day to show others her hearing aid. She looked at me as if I asked her to do something horrible like club a kitten to death.

I suggested that she can try tucking her hair behind her hearing aid just for a few moments while in class and see what happens. She rolled her eyes at this.

I watched her the other day in class, quietly doing her work. She looked at me and smiled and rolled her eyes. Then she slowly lifted her hand up to her right ear (where her hearing aid is) and carefully tucked a few strands of her hair behind her hearing aid. Her hearing aid was visible for a moment, I could make out the little flower stickers. Then suddenly, it disappeared. The hair covered it again. Then she smiled and tucked her hair behind the hearing aid, looked around and then hid it again. It was as if I was witnessing a hearing aid peek-a-boo game. She did this again for a few more minutes.

At the end she decided to leave her hair tucked behind her hearing aid for those within close proximity to see her hearing aid in all its pink and flower stickers glory.

I squealed silently inside with excitement. I tried to remain cool.

As I left the classroom, I looked at her and nodded at her (when really I wanted yell at her about how proud I was of her and give her a big hug while sobbing hysterically).

She simply nodded back and went back to her work.



  1. This made me think, how does Deaf Culture regard hearing aids? These days, actually not at all. They can be decorated, glitzed up with rhinestones, or left plain in view. But the hearing aspect of it is irrelevant, the aid no more important than a barrette in the hair.

    Making hearing aids visible on purpose seemed to me a bit off sync with cultural attitudes. What is the message? Is it to hearing people: I am me plus hearing aids to help me hear? Or to other Deaf people: I am me and I can hear.

    Ideally, wearing hearing aids should be as unremarkable as wearing glasses or contacts. So what. Hide them by a favorite hairstyle or wear hair up for a change, the point isn't to make them visible or send any messages.

  2. No Dianrez,

    The point is not to constantly worry about hiding something you call "insignificant". Why should my student stress about hiding her hearing aid? I don't want her to show it off all of the time or tell the whole world about it. I want her to accept it for what it is and realize that it is not a big deal to other people (which was her biggest worry: that others would think its weird). Now she can choose to wear her hair up if she wants to, without worrying about showing her hearing aid.

    By the way, hearing aids are not insignificant to me. I depend on wearing my hearing aids at times, just like you depend on visual aids and sign language for communication purposes. Hearing aids may not be important to you, but they are to some others.


  3. Dianrez said,

    "Making hearing aids visible on purpose seemed to me a bit off sync with cultural attitudes. What is the message? Is it to hearing people: I am me plus hearing aids to help me hear? Or to other Deaf people: I am me and I can hear."

    Most people who wear hearing aids are not trying to send messages. They are trying to hear better.


  4. I used to cover my hearing aids, but it wasn't became I was ashamed of my hearing aids. It was because I didn't want people to know I'm deaf. I was ashamed of being deaf. I wanted to be normal and hearing. I didn't want people to stare at me and see I'm different.

    Dianrez, When Extreme home makeover marketed heavily on Hearing aids, Majority of deaf people did not like it.. it was for the same reasons what you wrote. People think it is about being anti-CIs but that's it.. because it wasn't about being anti-HAs either.

  5. Thanks for sharing Anonymous.

    This specific student, from what she told me, was embarrassed by her hearing aid. She was not embarrassed by the fact that she couldn't hear too well and most people already knew about her hearing loss. She would tell others that she can't hear too well (moderate hearing loss) even though she tried to hide her hearing aid.

    I would never force a child to do something he or she is ashamed or embarrassed by. I only gave her suggestions, and I was really surprised that she actually listened. I was just happy that she realized that it was not that big of a deal or as scary as she thought it would have been.


    I do understand the Deaf Culture view on hearing aids and CIs. But, for this child and for some others they have different views and ideas about hearing aids, and you have to understand that.


  6. When I was "mainstreamed" (before this term was even in existence, and I really can't call it mainstreaming, since I was the only Deaf kid in the whole school), I had hearing aids -- after I was about 8, I had BTE aids. I got the BTEs because I didn't want the other kids to see the cords coming out of my ears (plus I HATED the "bra"). After I got the BTEs, I would wear my hair longer so it could cover the hearing aids.

    Even though I would call myself Deaf, I knew I was not Hearing, I was not trying to be "Hearing" (at least not consciously), I was still basically embarrassed to be "Deaf", as exemplified by my aids.

    It wasn't until after I went to MSSD (or later) that I finally did not feel "afraid" to let my hearing aids show.

    Being Deaf in the mainstream, with the unwritten expectations that you must conform, be "normal" (i.e., "Hearing")is quite stressing, and I totally understand where this girl is coming from.

    I do applaud you in your attempts to help her to take pride in being Deaf.

  7. Dr. Don G, how times have changed. I'm actually in a reverse situation now. I'm a Deaf adult who has a CI and works at a state school for the deaf. I have long curly hair that conceals my CI. No one can tell if I have it on or not, and I never mention it. Some people on the staff know I have a CI, but not everybody. Most people I've told have been cool with it, but a few had a negative reaction. I don't make a big deal about having a CI, but I'm also not eager to let it show. I'm concerned my culturally Deaf peers and coworkers will feel differently about me, or treat me differently if they knew I had one. I know of a teacher at another state school for the deaf who was fired after getting a CI. She sued the school and won, and got her job back. So the perception that having a CI is anti-Deaf is real, and so is the chance of ostracism.
    Anonymous #2

  8. Loved the story you told.

    This is interesting because when I was a kid, I wore my hearing aids visibly cuz I used to love pig tails. So, yeah, my hearing aid showed. I didn't care. I did go to a regular public school and was also in a mainstream program where I was in a class with all hearing kids. I think the only time I was self conscious about my HA is when I was in a new environment, such as at a sleep away camp where I didn't know anyone.

    In response to the adult with CI. Once I met a guy at a deaf event, CAAD Softball tournament, he worked for a relay company and was working at a booth there. I observed him showing up to set up his booth and notice CI on his head. After he got everything set up (going back and forth to his vehicle,) I noticed his CI was gone. We later got acquainted with each other and he was as culturally deaf as he could be. I didn't ask him about his CI. But, clearly he felt he had to take it off for some reason due to being in a culturally deaf environment. I would encourage every individual to show their CI and/or HA without fear of embarrassment or repercussion.

    By the way, I have worn HA all my life and consider it part of deaf culture. ;)


  9. Actually, when I wore HA's as a child, I had pigtails or ponytails, too, and they showed most of the time while attending mainstream school. There was never a thought about hiding or showing them. In fact, it would have been impossible to hide them due to their tendency to produce feedback.

    Today, you couldn't separate me from my glasses, they are a more important part of my life than ever before. I'm of the same mind as you...hearing aids and glasses should be no more remarkable than any other accessory.

    For kids, it's more about blending in...if everyone else wore hearing aids in varying degrees of obviousness, she would pick it up. If nobody else wears aids and most hairstyles cover the ears, that'll be the way she wants to go.

    It's when she wants her hair up but doesn't to hide her aids, it's a problem to deal with in terms of self-concept.

  10. Dianrez and (e, I hate to always be the one to talk about being late-deafened and bore everyone to death, but it's the only deaf perspective I know. That being the case, I can tell you I know many old ladies who are scared to death that someone will find out they wear hearing aids, or that the hearing aids will 'show' as if the hearing loss itself doesn't 'show.'

    In HLAA meetings we talk about self-disclosure a LOT. It's a huge issue for late-deafened people to get past. I expect many deaf children pick up these unhealthy attitudes about their hearing aids from their hh grandparents or aunties who are embarrassed about their hearing aids.

    There is a woman in my state in a high up position in HLAA who wore her bright red hair super short and glitzed her hearing aids up with little stick on rhinestones before she got her cochlear implant. Now she does the same thing with her implant, which she now decorates with those skins you put on ipods.

    For hh and deaf people, when they finally have the guts to wear the hair short or tuck the hair behind the ears, it's a statement that you aren't ashamed to be who you are. That's all. It's not a statement of pride. It's a statement of acceptance.

    Good on you (e!!

  11. Dr. Don G,

    You had to wear the "bra" thingie? Yikes, I'm sorry. I think I wore the same thing. I hated it!! Being the only deaf kid in the entire school must have been tough and I can understand why you would feel embarrassed or awkward to be Deaf.


    How interesting, the reverse situation you are in. That must be stressful trying to hide your implant at your place of work. It is a shame that you can't comfortably wear it because of the fear of being discriminated against or ostracized. But, I can understand why you would do this. I wouldn't want to put up with the negative reactions either. Knowing me, I would probably eventually tell everyone and see what happens. But, everyone is different and will have to do what they think is best for them. Good luck with this.


    I was the same way. I was never embarrassed by my hearing aid and never really gave it much thought. However, I HATED the stupid FM body vest thingie. Maybe this was the "bra" that Don G. was referring to.
    Interesting story about the CI.


    Late deafened never bore me. I am always willing to learn more about them. I can see how wearing hearing aids for them is a scary and awkward prospect. To be one way all your life, and then suddenly you have to wear hearing aids or use weird amplification devices, would be a hard thing to accept.
    For me and some of my students, to show our hearing aids, is a statement of acceptance for the most part.

    Interesting, how everyone have different experiences and views on this. Thanks for sharing!!!


  12. I am single sided deaf since birth. When I first got hearing aids at the age of 20 (I'm about to turn 25) I was painfully self conscious and thought everyone was looking at me or at my aids, which was not true.

    Because I have long, thick, curly hair, I usually have it done up in a ponytail so my hearing aids were visible from day 1. This led to me fully accepting myself and my hearing loss.

    For the past 8 months or so I've been decorating my hearing aids with various stickers. I find it fun, lighthearted and a nice change from the boring beige colour. My friends and sometimes the occasional stranger have complemented me about it. I find it also acts as an icebreaker for others who want to know more about my hearing aids and hearing loss but are afraid to ask (thinking they might offend me or something).

  13. That's great Jen! Isn't it fun to decorate them? They act really well as an ice breaker that's for sure. :)

  14. My son was recently diagnosed with a hearing deficit. He is only six years old, which at first I was upset, but know moving forward! I am so glad I came across all your posts, because I was in the process of letting his hair grow in efforts to hide his hearing devices. Know I plan on getting his usual short hair cut, because I need him to realize his friends will accept him for who he is; loving,kind,happy energetic 6 year old!! I can not believe I even thought of changing his appearance! I am truly ashamed of myself, but will continue to move forward with my alternate plan.

  15. I was diagnosed with mild hearing loss at 14, I now wear two bte hearing aids (oticon, spirit zest)at first I had to wear my long hair up, leaving my HAs on show, because the sound of my hair rubing along the mic made a lot of noise, so at school people saw them from the start mine are a silvery colour and I never had much of a problem wearing them on show some one told me 'if you can't see well, wear glasses, if you can't hear well wear hearing aids' now everyone is used to me wearing them there I sometimes decorate them and I have even had people interested in what happens and how they work.

  16. I would also like to make a comment...I wear bilateral hearing aids and have done since primary school. I never used to wear them as a teenager (too ashamed) and even as a young adult, I avoided showing them as I felt people associated deafness with dumbness...I am now a "mature" 46 yo and wear them with very short hair. This is such a reliefe to actually be able to show them, as it means peole are able to take my deafness into consideration when communicating. Hearing aids are not like glasses...glasses enable one to see properly - one can not ever hear like a normal person, even with aids, so I need people to look at me when they speak and to speak clearly.

    1. That depends on how significant the visual impairment is. Many blind and visually impaired people wear glasses that improve their vision about as much as a profoundly deaf person's HA improves their hearing.

  17. I'm 20, deaf from birth, and have had a cochlear implant on one side for 11 years. I hide it from my friends because:
    1) People are quicker to say "nevermind" if you ask them to repeat something if they know you can't hear as well.
    2) People who know about my hearing have a tendency to act as 'interpreters' in group conversations and feel the need to repeat everything that is said to me if I don't respond to it.
    3) Some people even tend to equate the tendencies of HOH people with that of mental retardation, justifying any accidents or mistakes I make as "because I'm deaf."
    When people don't know, I can carry on in society as a normal human being. I much prefer that to worrying that people are only putting up with me because of my hearing.


Keep it civil.