What does it mean to be a Late-Deafened Adult in Australia?

Rick Farrow

c 1999

[Editor's note: BobDeafie is one of the founders of theSWC.]

I was initially diagnosed with a severe hearing loss when I was 26. My specialist believed that my hearing had deteriorated over approximately 20 years. My hearing deterioration accelerated over approximately 8 months from a severe level to a profound level.

In a way it was a revelation to me. My hearing had never been tested until my diagnosis. I had never known good hearing so I said nothing to other people about it. I had no basis of comparison so I assumed everyone was the same as me. I slid through the Australian education system assuming I was not very intelligent and got on with life as best I could. Teachers thought I was an underachiever but never thought of a reason why.

I needed a teacher like Bob Deafie to make it interesting for me.

I faced all the usual issues when I became deaf.

The first of them was a lack of self-confidence. I began to have doubts about my ability to have a viable economic and social future. Everyday transactions necessary for the modern life were fraught with communication failure and fear of ridicule by others.

As a result of this I began a self-imposed social withdrawal from all but essential social interaction. On weekends I would not speak to anyone at all because the effort involved was too great after a week of trying to maintain an image of normalcy at work.

I also began to find opportunities for promotion within my employment began to dwindle as I became known as a “disabled” staffmember. Technology was made available to me but my hearing deteriorated faster than the supply of technology so my sense of isolation in the work environment increased. This led to a more negative self-image and decreased my desire to participate in any situations where failure seemed inevitable.

A total absence of appropriate professional counseling support in the first 8 years or so after diagnosis of a severe hearing loss had many repercussions for me. The largest of these was depression.My "depression" lasted for approximately 7 years. During this time I saved no money for my future because I couldn’t see myself having a long future: Why save for a retirement I would never reach? Suicide was seriously contemplated on numerous occasions but somehow never seriously pursued. I was caught between two worlds.

Another issue that I faced as do many Late-Deafened Adults is the lack of peer group support to assist with the provision of appropriate social interaction. In my case I knew nobody the same as me and the feeling of isolation was deep and painful. My hearing friends couldn’t understand the pain, frustration and exhaustion that I felt trying to maintain even simple conversations. These feelings led to an increased desire for isolation from the world to avoid negative experiences.

The next major issue to confront me was communication breakdown. These occurred in professional, private and business transactions and were a source of constant embarrassment to me. Who among us has notbeen left gasping as someone else mumbled something for the umpteenth time and we still can't comprehend.

Previous flaws in my character became magnified. Shyness became a social paralysis. I would panic at the thought of even going outin public to the shops or with friends in case I made a fool of myself. Inability to form anything other than superficial relationships with anyone of either gender became certain because I couldn't communicate.

I tried a variety of coping mechanisms:
Reading books on deafness
Spending Inordinate amounts of time alone in my room contemplating the world I could no longer hear.
Social withdrawal.

Effective measures:
A big black hairy lovable Giant Schnauzer named Jake provided a social and physical outlet for me. He had to be walked and trained and taken to the heated indoor dog swimming pool for his little swims which were in reality marathon sessions. In return he offered me unconditional love and trust and signalled me when people came to the door unless he didn't like them and then he would not bother. He removed my focus on myself and made me look at others.

I did eventually find professional counselling from a Deaf counsellor and he gave me sage-like advice and support and redirected my focus outwards.

Over time I improved my use of manual communication which increased opportunities to acquire information. This opened further vistas for me.

Since then, I have run training courses for hearing people so they understood  Deaf and HOH people and their communication needs more easily.

I am about to start teaching again at a local church for some of their congregation. Not because I am involved with their brand of religion but because they asked me to repeat what I did a couple ofyears ago.

I have found SWC.

I guess what I wanted to say in my own inimitable inarticulateand "G" rated way was that by thinking of others a little bit I have gained so much.

I went deaf and turned my focus inwards. I was going the wrong way. I really believe that it is our responsibility to pave the way for the next lot of HOH people and they in turn will improve on it again.

We are lucky to live in this age of new technology that makes our life easier.

We are lucky to have other members of SWC for support.

We are lucky to be alive. Live for each day and marvel at the wonder of it.

We may seem to be trapped between worlds to some but I think that we are actually living in the "real world" and on the whole doing pretty well.

We are forging a new reality and I for one am enjoying it.