Family Stories: Oman Family

This text is from a Parent Testimonial made at Listen and Talk’s 8th Annual Benefit and Auction on March 1, 2014 by Listen and Talk parent, Amber Oman. 


My name is Amber Oman and I am honored to have the opportunity to share how Listen and Talk has changed my family’s life.

This is my 5th year attending Listen and Talk’s annual benefit. It has become an event I look forward to attending every year. It is great to see so many new and familiar faces. The fact that hearing loss has brought so many compassionate individuals here tonight is a beautiful thing. Together we are changing the future for children with hearing loss of all degrees.  Thank you so much!!

My husband Wes and I are parents to an awesome hard of hearing 5 year-old boy named Jonathan, who is currently attending Listen and Talk’s Blended Classroom program.

Thanks to genetics, Jonathan and I both have a mild-to-moderate hearing loss.

A normal person’s hearing chart is a straight line across, but our chart dips down in the middle and is called a cookie bite chart because that dip looks like a bite out of a cookie. How cute is that? It is all about finding joy in the small things…

In many ways, I feel like my son and I are on the same journey. He is crushing it! I’m very much still a work-in-progress.

I was born with my little cookie bite hearing loss, but it went undiagnosed until I started school. My teachers noticed that I wasn’t responding to verbal directions in the classroom, and so I was referred to an audiologist.

I come from a very loud and boisterous family, and I think they were all pretty surprised by my diagnosis. After all, I could hear them just fine—in fact I’m pretty sure the neighbors could hear us just fine, too!

I received my first set of hearing aids soon after my diagnosis and right away I did not like wearing them. I remember everything sounded so loud and harsh—especially my family. 🙂

My aids would sometimes whine with feedback, and being young, I didn’t understand that they could be adjusted, therefore, never said anything about it.

At school, I was teased and labeled as different.

I don’t remember ever having someone that helped explain it all and offer some reassurance and guidance.

I did not want to wear my hearing aids, and I often didn’t. As soon as I got to school, I would put my aids in my little pockets and my poor unsuspecting teacher would be none the wiser…until I was called on, repeatedly, in class. (Busted!)

I frequently lost my hearing aids on the playground. My mom reminded me of a time when I lost one while playing on the soccer field and the whole elementary school had to come out, line up, and walk the field searching for my lost audio device. We never did find it. Sorry, Mom!!

My parents were going through a divorce during this time. After a year of replacing my hearing aids at an alarming rate, my mom could not afford to replace them anymore.

I know it was an incredibly difficult decision for her at the time, but with no resources or help, she had no choice but to encourage me to advocate for myself the best I could by sitting up front in classroom, asking people to repeat themselves, and to never assume anything.

Thank goodness for literature! Over the years, I became a big reader and devoured books and written material in an attempt to glean information about the world. I slowly forgot about my hearing loss, because it became part of my view of what normal was. I subconsciously adapted by learning body language, judging people’s expressions, and reading lips. To me, my hearing loss was no more different than the way my hands felt or how my eyes saw.

In school, my teachers assumed that I was a day-dreamer. I was a day-dreamer, but only because I was bored and I couldn’t hear all that was being taught. Over the years, I became pretty good at filling in the blanks…but not good enough. I fell through the cracks. I barely graduated high school, yet, I was the editor of my school’s yearbook and a photojournalist on the school newspaper. If it wasn’t for English Lit class and my school’s amazing Art program, I probably would have flunked out.

Algebra was especially hard. My teacher would write equations involving numbers and letters, and talk while facing the blackboard—yikes! I had a lot of anxiety trying to figure out why someone would add an ‘x’ and a ‘y’ to a math problem that was already hard enough with plain ‘ol numbers.

After high school, I got a job waiting tables in the noisy restaurant industry—where everyone naturally talks louder and doesn’t think anything is weird when you ask them to repeat themselves.

In my mid-twenties, I met my husband Wes, and while I had forgotten about my hearing loss and had become really good at pretending to catch all that was going on, he started to notice that I wasn’t just a day-dreamer and that I was missing out on a lot during social interactions.

Wes encouraged me to see an audiologist. 22 years after my first failed attempt with using hearing aids, I went to get my hearing tested again. This time, I was more aware of how much I had to gain.

Getting hearing aids as an adult was a hard adjustment! I dealt with a lot of feedback in the beginning, which thankfully got fixed. At first, nothing sounded familiar and I spent a lot of time tracking down unusual sounds, like: the fizzing of an open soda can, or the chattering of the squirrels in my backyard. One day, I kept hearing a rumbling that sounded like a Mack Truck idling outside my house: the noise would come and go and it was driving me nuts trying to figure it out! I finally tracked it down—it was simply my refrigerator running. LOL!

For awhile, my confidence started to crumble. I started realizing just how much I had missed out on over the years. I found out that people’s words did not always match up to their body language or smiles. It took me awhile to learn the art of dry sarcasm. I felt pretty lost.

At times, I felt so overwhelmed by my new, noisy world that I would pull my hearing aids out and, yep, put them in my pockets. Old habits die hard…

But the Universe works in mysterious ways…. Three years after I got my hearing aids, my son was born and diagnosed with hearing loss by a newborn hearing screening. He also was born with bicoronal craniosynostosis—a condition where two of the sutures (or plates) in his skull grew together prematurely and, if left untreated, would impede his brain development and growth.

My boy had major skull surgery at 9 months old. The operation was a success and Jonathan  recovered much faster than we, his parents, did.

With his surgery behind us, we met with an audiology team at Seattle Children’s Hospital and started getting him fitted for hearing aids. It was during that time when Dr. See at Children’s encouraged me to seek outside help with this new chapter in our lives. After reading a brochure about Listen and Talk, I decided to call because they seemed like the best fit for my family.

We had no idea what to expect from our first meeting with Amy Kyler, a staff member of Listen and Talk’s Early Intervention Services team. She turned out to be even better that we hoped! This cheerful, determined, and very funny gal worked hard to cover many topics and juggle multiple duties during our weekly one-hour home visit. She taught me how to do hearing checks on Jonathan and how to play speech sound games. We learned about hearing equipment and how to use an FM. She was always patient, practical, and willing to answer all of my questions. Her knowledge and resources never ceased to amaze me.

One day, Amy brought her laptop and plugged in Jonathan’s audiogram into some software that played a man’s and a woman’s voice at the volume a normal hearing person would hear it. Then, she played it at the volume Jonathan (and I) hear it. Wes experienced a whole new awareness about how we naturally heard—and that understanding has been priceless.

Because of our positive interactions with Amy, we became excited and hopeful about the idea of Jonathan enrolling in Listen and Talk’s Blended Classrooms when he turned 3 years old. When it came time to meet with our school district to determine what preschool program would benefit Jonathan the most, Amy was there every step of the way with us: helping us go through paperwork and making sure nothing was overlooked, attending meetings, and advocating for Jonathan. Because of her help, our school district agreed that Listen and Talk was the best place for Jonathan. Thank you so much, Amy!! Your impact on my family is still felt today.

On his 3rd birthday Jonathan started Preschool at Listen and Talk with the the amazing “A-Squared” teacher team of Ashley Martin and Addie Morton. My son was three years old and wearing his hearing aids every day. He was crushing it! Ashley and Addie never ceased to make each day at school magical and exciting. They checked his hearing equipment, conducted sound checks, worked on his speech goals, and taught him to speak up when his hearing aids weren’t working right. They offered Wes and I great guidance and encouraged Jonathan (and us!) to dream big.

Every school day, my son was sent home with a Picture Page—an invaluable sheet of information and photos summarizing his day at school. Reading these together after school became a ritual our family looked forward to. Because of these daily fun reports, we have been able to continue working on many of the concepts and vocabulary words Jonathan was learning during the day.

This year, Jonathan is in Susie Andrews and Marisa Mitchell’s Pre-K classroom. Getting to know these awesome gals has made me realize that everyone at Listen and Talk is incredible! Jonathan has become very social over the years and talks more than ever now. At home, we hear a lot about how great Teacher Susie and Teacher Marisa are. Like Ashley and Addie, they make a great team, and the amount of dedication, creativity, and heart they put into each day is outstanding.

While Listen and Talk’s Blended Classrooms have hugely impacted Jonathan, it has been our once-a-week Listening and Spoken Language Therapy sessions—with the always encouraging and resourceful Kristin Wilson—that has enriched our home life so much. These therapy sessions are designed for a parent and child to attend together to continue working on therapy lessons at home throughout the week.

Kristin picked up where Amy left off, with working on speech sounds and getting Jonathan to put in his hearing aids by himself. Jonathan worked on broad concepts, such as understanding time, and asking and answering curiosity questions. Lately, we have been working on re-telling stories and following a long series of verbal directions. Kristin kept on top of Jonathan’s changing IEP (Individualized Education Program) goals and helped brainstorm new ways to incorporate therapy goals into our daily life. She spent a lot of time listening to his hearing aids and helping me troubleshoot when things didn’t sound right.

During our time with Kristin, I discovered which sounds we had the hardest time hearing and how certain nuances in the English language were correctly pronounced. I also found out that I couldn’t teach it to Jonathan if I didn’t practice it myself. Jonathan’s therapy sessions made it crystal clear to me about what I missed in my younger years.

Slowly, I have been embracing my tiny little hearing devices—I no longer keep them in my pockets! Along with Jonathan’s speech—my speech has been improving, too. Kristin didn’t realize that we were getting a two-for-one deal 🙂 Thank you, Kristin!!

In addition to the great teachers I have mentioned, Listen and Talk has another extremely valuable asset. Robin Waterman, the Pediatric Audiologist of the on-site Audiology Services team, has been a great resource for making sure Jonathan’s hearing equipment is working properly and keeping an eye on his ear health, offering us great advice, and supporting his audiologist at Children’s. She is so awesome and has been a huge help to us over past few years. I can’t imagine how we would have got through all of Jonathan’s ear health issues when he wasn’t able to tell us what was wrong. Thank you, Robin!

Jonathan has the ability to dream big—way bigger than I dared—because of his solid foundation at Listen and Talk. He can dream of being an NFL football player like Derrick Coleman, or becoming the first Man on Mars, or even the President of the United States if he wants…his hearing loss will not be holding him back in life.

When he goes off to Kindergarten, I know he will not fall through the cracks in school. He will excel, because together, we have all these great tools we’ve learned from the amazing people at Listen and Talk over the past 5 years.

Thank you very much! Cheers!