"Nothing stops me. Ever": How being diagnosed with hearing loss inspired Megan Rix to create a Deaf heroine
Published on: 22 February 2021 Author: Megan Rix
Author Megan Rix didn't know that she had hearing loss until her diagnosis as an adult. She explains how she was inspired to write children's books with a Deaf heroine (and an amazing puppy!)
Seeing the signs
It’s hard to know you’re deaf if someone doesn’t tell you that you are. Up until the day I found out I’d assumed all the other children at my primary school couldn’t distinguish between the sounds different letters made. Lip-reading was a way of life – I thought everybody lipread each other.
My hearing loss wasn’t diagnosed until I was almost 50, even though it’s genetic and I was born deaf. At first, when the audiologist told me I had a moderate hearing loss it was hard to take in. ‘Not me.’ I said. ‘My hearing’s fine!’ Apart from I can’t hear the words when someone’s singing and my husband has to translate for me. I always say I fell in love with him because his voice is perfect to me. He always says he knows when I’m not wearing my hearing aids because I can’t tell how loud my voice is and end up shouting. Even the audiologist commented on the difference with hearing aids and without. Fortunately, I come from a loud family J Now, when I hear someone talking far too loudly in an inappropriate place I think they probably have a hearing loss too. Hearing loss isn’t just about the volume though it’s about distinguishing letters and not missing out words. It can vary an awful lot. Occasionally I get tinnitus which is a continual ringing in your ears. But it can be much worse than a soft hissing ringing. I’ve known people who are unable to work because of it.
After my diagnosis, difficulties learning to read, not hearing people in a noisy playground and being accused of ignoring them or being rude, being in trouble for talking too loudly in class - when I thought I was whispering – all made sense. Lots of things suddenly now made sense.
Top of the class
Luckily, I caught whooping cough at primary school and had almost a term off during which I taught myself to sight-read rather than trying to understand phonics – when I couldn't properly hear the sound of the letters. Once I was confident in reading there was no stopping me and I was a total bookworm who was soon desperate to write her own stories. As soon as I stopped being contagious with whooping cough I haunted the local library until the librarian eventually said I could choose books from the adult section too – and then there were even more books for me to devour!
I returned to school a confident reader and went from the bottom of the class to the top in English. (I had to have extra support lessons to help learn Roman numerals, which I’d totally missed out on while I was sick.)
By the time I went to secondary school I’d unconsciously put coping strategies in place.
I’d sit near the front so I could lip-read. I had good friends who were always there for me. I can remember being told by a teacher to get out of the class for talking and my friends saying they’d been talking too and coming with me.
When I told my old school friends about my diagnosis no one was very surprised.
Learning Sign Language
It took a while to get used to my hearing aids once I had them, but hearing birds singing clearly for the first time: what a revelation! Not just that – situations where I’d been in a noisy environment, but needing to concentrate on listening, had always been hard and stressful; even parties, but they were much less hard and stressful with hearing aids!
Once I knew I had a hearing loss I took lip-reading classes and also a cognitive listening course. There were many stories similar to mine amongst my classmates. We’d slipped through the cracks but had struggled on. Everyone had memories of mistakes they’d made. One woman recounted how she’d thought her boyfriend of the time said watch out I’m a psychopath when he’d actually said watch out its a cycle path.
I didn’t think to learn sign language at first. But once I did, my world really changed.
I’ve got a lot of catching up to do but have passed my level 3 in British Sign Language and am increasing my fluency all the time. I love using it and now think of myself as a sign language user who’s becoming a part of the deaf community. I’ll never forget my meeting with a CODA girl (hearing child of deaf adults) on one of my school visits. She couldn’t believe I could sign too. Her first language was sign language and she was delighted to be able to have a proper conversation in sign. Now I love signing my picture books and having children join in.
I like to show my hearing aids to the children when I visit schools. Often a teacher will say a child with new hearing aids is reluctant to wear them, and I will point out all the wonderful differences they can make.
Creating Lizzie and Lucky
I didn’t consciously miss not having deaf heroes in books when I was a child because I didn’t identify myself as deaf. Now though, if I was a child again, I know I would love to have more. Lots and lots more!
That’s why I’m really excited about the Lizzie and Lucky books. I want to share my detective heroine and her amazing, funny and quirky family – not to mention she has a puppy! (Anyone who knows me knows that I’m dog mad.) The fact that Lizzie’s Deaf, with a capital D, doesn’t hold her back one step. Deaf people who use sign language as their first language and are part of Deaf culture like to use a capital D when referring to themselves.
Did having a hearing loss affect my choice to be a writer? I don’t know. Maybe. I knew I wanted to be a writer from when I was very young. It was my dream job and you should always follow your dreams.
Did have a hearing loss actually stop me from doing anything that I wanted to do? Ever?
Nope, nothing stops me. Ever.
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