There are many benefits to having a sibling. You have a built in playmate as a child, someone who you can get into trouble with and then promptly put all the blame on when you get caught, and a life-long friend. I would argue, however, that I have reaped far more benefits from my sibling than he has from me.
You see, my brother has taught me from a very young age that it’s possible to laugh, communicate and show love without even uttering a single word. He has taught me compassion, patience and about the profound impact isolation can have on a person. He also shaped my future and helped my 20-year-old self figure out what I was going to do with my life. Further, he is the reason I am so dedicated to educating people about hearing loss and the importance of hearing health care.
My older brother, Eric, is deaf. He was likely born deaf but wasn’t diagnosed until the age of 2, since newborn hearing screenings weren’t mandatory at the time (thank you Marion Downs for changing that). As soon as he was identified as deaf, he was fit with an auditory trainer (later hearing aids) and along with my mother started learning English sign language. Due to the profound nature of his hearing loss, Eric derived very little benefit from amplification and ultimately discontinued use of hearing aids by high school.
Over the years, as a child into adulthood, I have seen first-hand the struggles he has faced with his “invisible” disability. From academic struggles, to the difficulties of finding a job that doesn’t require a college degree OR hearing. But the most heart-breaking struggle is the social isolation he experiences. Imagine walking into a room where everyone is speaking a different language and you need help finding the nearest hospital. You resort to the use of gestures, in an attempt to communicate, but ultimately the gestures have little to no meaning. Imagine how frustrating that would be. This is what my brother experiences every single day.
Witnessing the isolation my brother has experienced is what laid the foundation for my career in the hearing healthcare field. It has motivated me to teach anyone, EVERYONE I possibly can, about the importance of hearing loss prevention and of diagnosing and treating hearing loss as soon as possible. The sense of hearing is truly invaluable, if you don’t believe me check out this video from the Starkey Hearing Foundation that shows how incredible hearing for the first time can be or the gratitude a person with hearing loss experiences when they are reconnected back to their world.
Do you have a sibling or someone you know and love that may have hearing loss? If so, encourage them to seek help, support them in their effort and celebrate their commitment to better hearing. Don’t allow those you love to experience the isolation and challenges that come with hearing loss.