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Honor’s mild deafness

Photo: Read Honor's story

Tanya was shocked when she learnt just how much her now seven-year-old daughter Honor’s mild hearing loss affected her – yet no one took it seriously.

Tanya and husband Simon first suspected things weren’t right when Honor was 18 months. “She’d been the happiest baby, but at 18 months she changed and became a naughty, grumpy little girl with bad temper tantrums,” says Tanya.

They’d experienced nothing like it with Honor’s sister Macy, two years older, and whereas Macy had begun talking at one, Honor had trouble communicating.

“She’d often ignore us when we called her,” says Tanya. “Her speech wasn’t good, it was slow to come and she mispronounced things and missed off initial consonants and word-endings. We could understand but other people sometimes struggled.

“She was behind with other milestones like potty-training – it was a nightmare, she just didn’t understand and it didn’t happen until she was over three. Looking back I think her tantrums were frustration at being unable to understand or communicate, as well as pain from constant ear infections.”

“Honor passed because the test wasn’t subtle enough to detect a mild loss.”

When Tanya asked the health visitor, she did a basic hearing test, standing behind Honor with a box which made noise. 

Honor passed because the test wasn’t subtle enough to detect a mild loss,” says Tanya. Then aged three, Honor had a particularly bad infection but their GP refused antibiotics, so in desperation Tanya took her to a walk-in centre. A nurse treated Honor, then asked if Tanya had concerns about her hearing.

“I said yes and she advised us to see an ENT consultant and gave us a letter for our GP. At last someone was taking our concerns seriously,” says Tanya. A consultant diagnosed glue ear; he said her eardrums were in such a poor state that she’d not been hearing much at all.

“It was as if someone had flicked a switch.” 

Honor’s adenoids and tonsils were removed and she had a grommet in her right eardrum and a myringotomy (a small incision made to relieve pressure) in her left one.

“It was a huge relief,” says Tanya. “After surgery, her hearing was a little down but within ‘normal’ range and it was as if someone had flicked a switch. Her speech came on instantly. She started pronouncing most sounds and word-endings. It wasn’t perfect and she still misheard sometimes, but it was a million times better. And she began interacting with everyone, whereas before she’d been quite introverted. Her behaviour improved too.”

By the time Honor started school in September aged four, her speech was at the same level as other pupils her age. Then following an ear infection over Christmas, Honor’s teacher told Tanya that Honor wasn’t learning at the same rate as her classmates. Honor’s consultant arranged for a Teacher of the Deaf, Kate, to assess her.

“I showed Kate all the hearing tests,” says Tanya. “She said that with those results she’d normally give child hearing aids. I was pretty surprised and got quite upset. The audiologist had previously said it’d be really unusual for a child with those levels to be aided. But Kate saw it differently – in a learning environment even a mild loss affects children hugely. She said Honor wasn’t hearing initial consonants and had learned to lipread. The hairs stood up on my neck – it was really shocking that my little girl had this skill and I didn’t know.”

"Honor’s made friends at school, I did used to worry about that." 

That summer, after her fifth birthday, Honor had a hearing aid fitted in her right ear. When she returned to school at the start of Year 1 in September they really saw the difference.

“That year she learnt to read,” says Tanya. “It was an emotional time; I’d doubted that she would. The school is very receptive, I have sometimes emailed them information from the National Deaf Children’s Society Helpline, such as tips on acoustics, and her teachers do deaf awareness training.”

Socially too, things have improved. “Honor’s made friends at school,” says Tanya. “I did used to worry about that.”

They also joined their local deaf children's society. Honor was keen when Tanya told her about the youth club.

“She said, ‘Please can I go, I’ve never met anyone else with hearing aids,’ so we went along – and I’m so glad,” says Tanya. “Just meeting others with hearing aids made everything seem normal. I saw lots of kids with deafness that were succeeding in education, it gave me hope.”

“I feel a bit of a fraud when people ask if she’s deaf and I say ‘well not really’. She is only mildly deaf but even so it has had a big effect. With mild deafness, others don’t realise they’re not hearing well. No one took her hearing loss seriously until she had a hearing aid.”

At her annual review at the end of June Tanya was delighted to be told Honor’s hearing had improved and she no longer needed her hearing aid. “They’re monitoring her every six months in case it dips back down again, but her results have improved loads,” beams Tanya. “Because of the glue ear she still has a build-up of liquid in her ears, but as she gets older that should clear, so her hearing should get even better.”