Confessions from the Audiology Booth: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly – Part 1

Deaf adults and Parents of deaf children know that there are great audiologists out there as well as some who should really have chosen a different profession. I don’t mean for this to sound condescending to audiologists at all. However, it a takes a special kind of person to be a great pediatric audiologist.

Elmo trying on Michael's hearing aids.
Elmo trying on Michael’s hearing aids.

Early on, we had the opportunity to visit several audiologists trying to find answers and find what was best for our son. I want to share some of our experience and the lessons we learned while spending hours at the audiologist’s offices. My goal is to provide other parents some idea of what to expect and what to look for in a pediatric audiologist if they have a newborn child who is deaf. Of course, if you have been through this experience as a parent or as a deaf person, I am sure that you will be able to relate to our experiences on an emotional level as well. Additionally, audiologists and audiology students will certainly benefit from a better understanding of a parents’ perspective.

As a parent, you need clear answers. You don’t need someone who doesn’t know how to listen. You don’t need someone who tells you what to do without listening to your concerns. You don’t need someone who has no bedside manner and is unable to explain the difference between a speech banana and Dole® banana. And you definitely don’t need someone who frightens your child! There are wonderful, knowledgeable, empathetic audiologists out there who will take the time to have a conversation with you, as well as, provide the education you need.

This article is part one of two describing our experiences. Today, we will discuss the ‘Bad Audiologist‘ and the ‘Ugly Audiologist‘. Check back tomorrow for the story of the ‘Good Audiologist‘, as well as, some lessons learned.

The Bad Audiologist

I want to start with our experience with the ‘Bad Audiologist’ because she was the first one we worked with. Please understand, she is a pleasant appearing, very nice person and she certainly seemed very skilled. So, regarding her technical skill alone, she is probably a great audiologist. However, what made our experience bad was her inability to explain herself in a way that was relatable to us – the parents of an infant who has just been diagnosed as deaf.

At this point, we knew that our son had hearing loss but we did not know how much. We really didn’t even know what his hearing loss meant. We didn’t know if he would need hearing aids or if we would need to learn sign language. We didn’t know if he would be able to speak or if he could hear our voice. We didn’t know if he could hear us say “I love you.” We were confused and we needed information, understanding and help.

This is not Michael but this is what the setup for an ABR looks like.

This appointment was for an ABR (Auditory Brain Response) test at a hospital in Orlando, FL. The clinic was clean and bright but very impersonal. There just didn’t seem to be any empathy or life there. We signed in, took a number, sat down to fill out the usual paperwork and then just waited for someone to call our number. When our number was called, we were led back to a small office where the test would be performed. The audiologist explained the procedure of the test in a manner that was not uncaring, but just mundane, rather unconnected-like. We kind of understood. The test required complete silence and required Michael to be asleep. He was napping during the test so, we sat in silence and dim light and gazed on as the audiologist placed electrodes on his forehead and monitored a computer screen. We sat there silent and still for at least 45 minutes to an hour anxiously waiting for the results. I am sure there was a little hope in us that the newborn hearing screening at the hospital was wrong or that something was missed and about to be resolved. Such was not the case.

When the test was finally finished the audiologist let us know that the test confirmed Michael’s hearing loss. She pointed to lines and waves on the computer screen which we did not understand. We asked, “So does this mean he is deaf”. She seemed somewhat afraid to use that word and said that the test shows a severe to profound hearing loss. As I tried to ask more questions in order to gain a better understanding, Leanna sat beside me trying to emotionally process these hard facts that we were now facing. I was not getting any understandable answers from the audiologist, only technical answers and more pointing to the computer screen. As Leanna was processing, her emotions overtook her and she began to cry. I then moved my focus from my disconnected conversation with the audiologist to consoling my wife. Our son is severely to profoundly deaf and we still didn’t really grasp what that meant and what we needed to do next. The audiologist just said that we would be contacted to schedule further testing. I thought ‘what testing? What’s next?’

It was an emotional and confusing day.

The Ugly Audiologist

Some time passed and we were scheduled for a hearing test in an audiology booth. We really didn’t know what to expect. We just wondered how in the world this type of test would be accomplished with an infant. This test was at a different hospital clinic. So, of course, we signed and in filled out paperwork again and waited to be called back. We had a bit more understanding at this point and I came prepared with (reasonable) questions that I wanted answered. They did have our records from the other clinic and so the audiologist, without any new testing, knew that our son was profoundly deaf. The audiologist came and got us from the reception room and led us through some tight hallways to a back room that was kind of dirty looking, filled with aged furniture, and not well lit. On our way back, she practically scolded Michael for sneezing and not covering his mouth. I couldn’t quite tell if she was serious or just trying to be funny. I just laughed, thinking ‘you know he can’t hear you, right?’

Anyway, the audiologist was not exactly the picture of health or happiness. Smiles from her were rare. She was not good with children and it seemed like Michael was a bit scared of her. Her personality was a little bit… ugly. She was not relatable and her technical skills were not exactly stellar either. I understand that there are good and bad in every profession, so we carried on to try and see if we could gain any more information. Her audiology booth appeared a lot like a re-purposed bomb shelter from the 1950s. For those not familiar with these tests, they have boxes inside the booth that are blacked out. When the child responds to the sound the box lights up and an animated character or stuffed animal appears. This is the Pavlovian reward for the child’s response to sounds. It is supposed to be a fun way for the child to be tested. Well this ancient booth also had ancient, broke down characters in those little boxes, that when lit up, looked more like cages for the evil toys from Toy Story 3!

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I sat in the booth with Michael on my lap. The audiologist first lit up a couple of the boxes before the test to get Michael’s attention. This was his first experience with this type of testing and you can imagine his response to seeing those scary items appear from a black box. He immediately began crying and struggling to get out of my lap and into the safety of Mommy’s arms. The audiologist, however, wanted to continue and instructed me to ‘bear hug’ him to keep him still. I guess I was in a good mood and decided to entertain her vain request. Obviously, this test was going nowhere! After just a couple of useless minutes and more frightening peep box shows, I had to call the test quits. This test was utterly unsuccessful for many reasons.

And my list of questions I came prepared with? They were unanswered and the audiologist was annoyed that I would even ask questions. I was annoyed with her demeanor and so I pressed on with my questions as my wife glared at me using her mind to tell me to stop, in a way that only a wife can do. Finally, realizing that I was not going to get anywhere with this ‘professional’ and that I was only frustrating myself, I quit asking any questions.

It was a wasted day; however, we did laugh about many parts of it later and prayed that Michael would not be scarred for life!

In the next article, we will continue this discussion and talk about the ‘Good Audiologist‘ as well as some lessons learned.

I hope that this article is helpful to both parents and audiologists alike. If you have found it helpful or enjoyable, please share it with your friends and family on Facebook, etc. You can also sign up to receive email updates from Seeing Life Different using the “Subscribe” button at the top right side of this article.

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