December 2, 2010

My Speech Therapist Was Mean

angry_womanIt would have been helpful if one of my second grade speech therapists had a better understanding of deaf and hard of hearing children and language development.

She would sometimes show disbelief when I did not understand an idiom or an expression. "What?! You have not heard that before?! What planet are you from?!" I remember her saying this. It may not be exactly what she said, but you get the idea. It made me feel stupid. Because she would say things like this, I would be reluctant to ask questions or to admit that I did not understand. I would often smile and nod and pretend that I understood perfectly. Sometimes she would catch me when she asked me to clarify. My face would turn red and I would be so embarrassed as I admit that actually I did not really know. She would get angry with me and then make more inappropriate jokes, making me feel stupid again.

It seems as if most deaf and hard of hearing children will often miss out on certain sayings found in casual conversations, especially jokes and idioms. These casual conversations usually happen among a group of people (which can be hard to follow for most deaf and hard of hearing people). Because they can't hear very well, they will miss out on what was said or not fully understand why everyone laughed, exclaimed in excitement, or gasped in horror. Naturally, the deaf or hard of hearing child will wonder, "What was so funny?" "Why did they all look so sad?" "What in the world did my friend say that made everyone gasp?" Most young children are not going to ask others to repeat themselves or work hard to try to understand what was said or discussed. I think from past experiences, many learned that it is annoying or bothersome to ask others to repeat what they just said. If they do ask others what they were talking about, most of the time people will say, "Don't worry about it." or "It was nothing." or "I don't feel like explaining it again." So, instead of asking, they may shrug it off, never to know or understand what was said. If children are not hearing or understanding most of what is said in casual conversations, they will lack an understanding of common jokes, idioms, and everyday sayings. If my speech therapist was aware of this, then maybe she would have been more sensitive in how she interacted with me.

One time, the speech therapist went overboard. My best friend at the time (and still is!) remembers this clearly (she took speech with me as she worked on her "s"). The speech therapist was asking me questions that I was supposed to answer, probably to evaluate my speech. One of the questions she asked, "What do people do on Sunday?" I answered something about reading the newspaper (which my parents religiously do Sunday mornings). She said that I was wrong or something about how this was not the answer she was looking for. She kept asking me and asking me, "What do people do on Sundays?" "Where do they go on Sundays?" I kept giving her various answers, "Stay home." "They sleep in." "They mow the lawn." "Watch television.", desperate to give her the right answer. The anxiety kept me from being able to think clearly. She rolled her eyes and let out loud sighs. She looked at me like I was crazy. My friend winced and tried to tell me the answer with her eyes.

I was near tears.
Finally, after what seemed like twenty minutes, the speech therapist yelled out,
"CHURCH! Knock! Knock! Anybody home?!"
My friend gasped, her mouth hung open. She tried not to laugh (which is what she often does when she gets nervous or is horrified).
I exclaimed, "Oh! Oh yeah. People go to church on Sundays, right." I was trying not to cry. I smiled and pretended as if it did not bother me. I felt so stupid, I felt that I should have known immediately that she was talking about church.

The speech therapist then moved on to the next question for my friend. She did not ask me anymore questions for the rest of the session.

My friend remembers this day clearly and we often talk and joke about it. Kids don't forget things like this, no matter how long ago it was.
Perhaps, if the speech therapist had said that the building had a cross on it or that it is where people go to worship and pray, then I would have said "church". Also, if she knew a little more about my family and my upbringing she would know that we did not attend church regularly on Sundays. I have been to church only a few times with my friend and neighbor on Sundays and sometimes on Wednesdays.  Plus, I lived near a Synagogue and had more experience seeing people go to their place of worship on Saturdays than people going to church on Sundays. How was I supposed to instantly recall where people go on Sundays? When she said "people", I assumed everyone. Perhaps it would have helped if she had said "some people" and to realize that not everyone goes to church on Sundays.


Related Post:

Let's Work On Your R's! 


  1. That's too bad. How degrading. I'm sorry you had such a bad experience ~ especially at such a young age. One of my pet peeves is people who say, "never mind...." We just want to feel included!

  2. Kids do remember that stuff, I sat in a doctor's office when I was 10 with both my parents while he told them I was making up having headaches for 'attention'. It took until I was 27 to be diagnosed with migraines because I was so worried they weren't real.

  3. I can understand where you are coming from! I went through variety of testings with audiologists and speech teachers. They do have tempers! They did not like my teasings or jokes. I guess they are too busy being scientists to fill their own financial portfolios.

    Most of them despised me for using no voice while communicating orally. Only deaf classmates understood me. Teachers or parents would scream at me to use my voice. I said no as I don't hear yours. One whacked my head for being smart mouthing. That one needs a kick in rear!

    It is funny how they are in deaf business and yet they do not know what they are doing!

  4. That is horrible for her to have done that to you or anyone else. The speech therapists we have worked with for our daughter have been wonderful. They actually have worked very hard on that exact thing, teaching slang and "kidspeak" and explaining that it is an important part of communication, and that it is harder for deaf kids to pick up in normal communication. They recognise this, and have worked hard to fill those gaps.

  5. Ugh, I know the people you mean. It can be frustrating to work with deaf children saying the same word or syllable over/ and over/ and over/. No wonder speech teachers get short tempered (not to speak of what it does to the CHILD.) Occupational hazard, maybe.

    There are a few people who say today's speech therapy is different from the old oralist days, and I very much hope so. Meanwhile, parents should be aware that bad eggs exist and avoid them for their child's sake.

  6. Jan Parlin PacelliDecember 03, 2010 8:11 AM

    Not so much a Speech Therapist thing - but more an audiologist one - when I was about 8 or 9, I was given electric shocks when I wasn't hearing something while being tested. I don't actually remember it too clearly - I do recall that I was crying when they opened the door to the sound-proof room - and my mom was angry at the audiologist. She was told that they thought I was "malingering and looking for attention and did't really have a hearing loss." As an adult, I read about Galvanic Skin Response testing. The text I read said it was generally given to the intellectually disabled and children - which is pretty horrifying, since these are the folks least able to defend themselves. Then when I was a teenager, I was taking French in high school and the first time I had to put headphones on in language lab, I flipped out and left the classroom. Took me a while to realize why - I was having a flashback to the electric shocks.

  7. LOL I don't go to church on Sundays or another day, however i do most of the other things you mentioned.

    No one will really know what it's like to be deaf unless they loose their hearing.

  8. Echoing Jan: I also had that GSR test done at Johns Hopkins when I was about 10. The shocks varied from a little buzz to outright painful zaps. I cried, too, at some point and the test was stopped.

    Someone told me years later that the test is to pick up faking of deafness in children. I couldn't undersand why that test had to be used when people knew I was deaf all my life. In the same visit the doctor poked probes up my nose way back to the Eustachian tubes. I remember getting X-rays and vomiting everywhere.

    Deaf children may have parents that go from doctor to doctor looking for some or any kind of help. Nowadays they find it sooner--the cochlear implant. What they put kids through, however, is something we need to examine carefully.

  9. I probably started getting speech therapy when I was about 4; I was profoundly deaf at 1500 Hz and higher and couldn't hear the difference between consonants. I remember working with the "therapist" for quite a while. One day we started working on the "r" sound. The only way she told me how to make the sound was by saying "r" but all I could hear was the vowel part of the sound. She said, "No! It's R!" "NO!!! IT'S R!" I tried as hard as I could to make this sound I couldn't hear. She yelled at me, "No! It's R!" over and over again, angrier and angrier. I felt so horrible that I started screaming and ran out of the room. I'd never screamed before like that in my life.

    In pursuing normalization, professionals need to pay attention to the emotional experiences of children with hearing loss as well. It's hard enough having a hearing loss in a hearing world. Fortunately, I had other speech therapists who were kind and supportive.

  10. My mother is a speech therapist. I'm going to show her this post - she will go into orbit! I have seen her doing screenings and when a kid doesn't know what she's talking about, she changes the question.

    There is NO excuse for being mean to a child. Ever.

  11. Wow loving this post! I am thinking of majoring in speech therapy and this helps me understand what i will have to pay attention to. This also makes me feel more confident into becoming a speech therapist because i love to be with kids and i am extremely patient! I am also very understanding and understand how kids are. So i hope you guys will keep comment on your experiences!! Thanks :D

  12. I'm profoundly deaf, grew up mainstreamed. My speech therapist in junior high was such a jerk that when she demanded I take out my hearing aids to see how clean my ear molds are then proceeded to drag me to the washroom to teach me a lesson in proper hygiene - scrubbing and scrubbing at my molds like some maniacal German hausfrau and making me feel like I was a filthy little mutt - I never went back to her again. She left the school soon thereafter.


Keep it civil.