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School experience… just curious how others got on

  • 19-12-2021 2:59pm
    Posts: 533 ✭✭✭ [Deleted User]

    I was just reading an article about provisions for ISL in mainstream education earlier and it just caused me to reassess how I was treated and how little awareness of hearing seemed to exist amongst teachers in the late 80s and 1990s.

    I was never profoundly deaf, and my hearing is pretty good now (following surgery in my late teens) but I had a lot of ear health and hearing issues in my school days and they were neither recognised nor was I offered any help. Quite the opposite; I was regularly mocked and bullied by staff and, to a lesser extent students, who were actually much more likely to be sympathetic about it than the teachers.

    I had years and years of middle ear problems that started out when I was about 4 or 5. I had grommets put in, but I was on antibiotics more often than I was off them. My ear drums burst, I remember waking up with blood and discharge on pillows and so on. Anyway, I ended up with a badly damaged left ear drum and middle ear which, was full repaired in my teens, with good outcome after I finally encountered an excellent ENT.

    The problem was I couldn’t hear very well in school and I heard my own voice as far, far too loud and often spoke far too quietly, especially if I had to speak to an audience as it sounded very loud to me, but not them.

    Teachers didn’t recognise this a a physical issue and would just either roar at me, telling me to “speak up.” One guy in my teens used to even mock my voice and say “big boys voice!” They would assume I was too shy and try all sorts of attempts to “toughen me up” or I was sent to speech and drama classes to get me to project my voice.

    I couldn’t hear people, especially if speaking across each other. I mispronounced some things like I remember not being able to distinguish B and P so, for example, as a kid I thought Binoculars were Pinoculars and so on. Irish was also a huge struggle as I wasn’t getting lip cues for it.

    One teacher used to throw stuff at me if I didn’t hear them. So a book would slam into my desk. I’d be accused of day dreaming. He used to even throw the duster at me. Another used to blow a refs whistle in my face.

    Often I would be just reading something or maybe drawing or writing because I couldn’t follow what was going on and I used to get given detention for this sometimes, or thrown out of class for not paying attention because I was reading a novel instead of paying attention, but I was kinda numb to it and was happy to be thrown out, as it meant I could relax in the library with a book.

    That turned into me being just permanently embarrassed about any kind of speaking and I just went into a complete avoidance of speaking or attempting any excuse to avoid school.

    I often just sat at the back and didn’t interact much, unless I absolutely had to. I started thinking I was just stupid and got really depressed about it and just hated school. I just read loads of books and talked to people one on one. I was outgoing at home / with my friends but often painfully shy in school.

    To make it worse, I was often feeling dizzy / sick and my hearing was muffled and distorted when I had problems with it.

    The other issue was swimming. We had access to a pool at school and swimming was made almost mandatory. I had serious problems with an open ear drum and they kept pressuring me into using ear plugs, which never worked and if water got in it was agony.

    I mean like bad enough that I would end up holding my head and actually tears steaming down my face. Yet, they just took this as being something to do with shyness or a fear of swimming and I got sent to a psychologist ?!?

    My GP was frankly useless. I was at the stage I was having nearly continuous ear infections, with smelly discharge and he didn’t re-refer me to an ENT. I was often on antibiotics maybe every second month. It was really bad looking back on it. The school was taking this psychological view of it and I was just getting no help from the GP.

    I got really bad ear infection one weekend and had to go to an out of hours doc and she referred me to a private ENT and that’s when it got taken seriously and finally repaired. I ended up having a tymoanoplasty, canaloplasty, meteoplasty and a major clear up of debris in my middle ear and some kind of procedure that corrected one of the joints in the ossiclular chain.

    All I remember is it took 4 hours and I had a huge head bandage and mastoid dressing followed by 3 further dressing changes done under anaesthesia. So it wasn’t exactly minor stuff, but it worked well and within a few months of it I could definitely hear a lot better and the ear infections stopped, or at least reduced to maybe one a year or so. I can hear fine, but I have permanent loud tinnitus in the high frequencies, but at least I no longer get the recurring problems and I’m not dizzy etc

    Anyway, to cut a long story short, had my teachers and GP been a bit less clueless I would have avoided an utterly miserable time in primary and the early years of secondary school and probably have performed a lot better than I did and probably have had my ear problems repaired lot sooner.

    My educational performance only took off in the leaving cert years and university.

    Have things improved at all? Or is the system still clueless and prone to gaslighting people with hearing issues?


  • Registered Users Posts: 26,129 ✭✭✭✭ looksee

    That's a terrible story, but not unusual I think. It reminds me of a girl in my extended family who was deaf - she used one of those big old style hearing aids - and registered blind, though she did have a bit of sight. The teachers often just omitted to switch on their 'end' of the hearing system. Neither the school for the blind or for the deaf would accept her because neither could cope with her having both issues. So she went to mainstream school and eventually on to college and eventually lived independently for a while, she had other issues though and died very young.

    Her experience at school was not good, maybe not as bad as yours but there was remarkably little accommodation made for her problems and I rather think the deafness was the least well understood. She was a very strong and resilient young woman and learned to cope, but it was no thanks to her treatment in school. It would have been about the same time as you were in school.

    My granddaughters attend/ed a country school where there are currently no hearing or sight impaired children, but there has always been a high proportion of children with special needs - they have 3 SNAs in a two classroom school. The children are completely integrated into classroom life, other, responsible, children are asked to partner with and befriend a child with issues and this befriending/assisting role is very successful and very good for both children involved. All the children learning caring and empathy. Its a great little school.

  • Posts: 533 ✭✭✭ [Deleted User]

    Hopefully things moved on a bit, but I was just appalled to see the foot dragging on providing ISL support for that kid in Cork. It just brought back how lousy the system was for me.

    The story you’re describing sounds absolutely terrible. It definitely shows a serious lack of support. It’s not always as visible as people think either.

    The biggest issue I found was a lack of understanding. It was all kind of turned into being either ignored or someone thinking they could bully me into hearing them.

    The problem seemed to be a mixture of rather old fashioned teachers and a GP who seemed to be content to just keep handing out antibiotics, rather than referring me on. I think in hindsight I probably might have avoided the long term tinnitus had it been repaired earlier.

    Perhaps it wasn’t a very visible problem and I likely masked it as best as I could, but you also just get used to things like that, especially if that’s just how it’s always been. I was just always feeling lousy - headaches, ear aches and so on. Then because I was making loads of mistakes and not following what was going on I just tended to assume that I must be stupid, or that I was doing something wrong, as I just kept walking into trouble. Mostly just kept being told I was lazy or that I needed to "pull up my socks” etc

    The ENT was just absolutely fantastic - found him pragmatic, practical, spoke to me about the technicalities in as much fine detail as I wanted to know, didn’t patronise and was genuinely extremely supportive and got the problems solved and was very much there for any technical support issues (of which there were a few) in the couple of years after.

    Once that was solved, particularly once I wasn’t just feeling sick all the time and once I knew I had a hearing issue that I could work around, everything started to improve. I also convinced my parents to change me into a different school, which was a big benefit as I was somewhat able to start with a clean slate.

    I just think though there needs to be so much more awareness of issues like that and I hope the system has improved.

    Post edited by [Deleted User] on