For seven years, 13-year-old Valentin from Austria could only hear in one ear. While his hearing loss remained undetected for a long time, the effects of single-sided deafness on his development were clearly visible. In her guest article, Valentin’s mother Irene explains how he was finally diagnosed with “profound hearing loss in the left ear” and how Valentin’s everyday life and personal development have improved thanks to his cochlear implant (CI).

Most of us take hearing with two ears for granted.  That’s why many people are unaware of the everyday challenges of hearing with just one ear. Before we learned about Valentin’s single-sided deafness, this was also the case for me. But the story of our son has given me — and our social circle — a better understanding:

A Childhood With Obstacles 

Shortly after Valentin’s birth, a routine hearing screening was performed and the results were inconspicuous. However, over time my son became a very loud child and his pronunciation was slurred. We sought the help of a speech therapist, but unfortunately the situation did not improve as much as we had hoped. Valentin’s speech therapist suspected that hearing problems might be the cause of Valentin’s slurred pronunciation – a suspicion I had had myself for some time.

I went to four different ENT doctors to have hearing tests done. Each time my son got good results, but his pronunciation did not improve. When Valentin finally entered primary school, he was given special educational support. But nevertheless he was not allowed to study with his classmates, and so he became an outsider who could not read or write in the second grade. I was at a loss: What should I do to help my son?

Diagnosis: Single-Sided Deafness 

When Valentin was seven, we found out the reason for his difficulties by accident: I had just bought new in-ear headphones and wanted to try them together with Valentin: the right earplug for me, the left one for Valentin. “Mom, I can’t hear anything,” my son immediately complained. I tested both headphones myself – and found that both sides worked perfectly.

The very next day I took Valentin to the nearest hospital and insisted that the hearing in his left ear be tested. Soon it became clear that Valentin’s speech therapist and I had been right: He was diagnosed with severe hearing loss in his left ear. Valentin had never heard anything in that ear. Since the ENT doctors had always used loudspeakers during the hearing tests, none of them noticed that Valentin was deaf in one ear. Despite this diagnosis I was relieved: We finally had an explanation for the slurred pronunciation and his loud speech.

Next Step: Cochlear Implant

Immediately after the diagnosis, the ENT team in our hospital took care of our family, and right from the start we knew we were in good hands. Just one year earlier, cochlear implants (CI) had been approved for people with unilateral deafness in Austria. Soon after the diagnosis Valentin was one of the first patients with unilateral deafness to be fitted with a CI, because we wanted him to be able to hear in stereo as soon as possible.

Of course, this was not an easy decision for our family. However, optimism was more important:

We did not think about what could go wrong but were full of confidence and anticipation about what Valentin could gain from the implant.

Unfortunately, we experienced less optimism from Valentin’s school: His teacher was not enthusiastic about his new high-tech hearing device. She only saw extra work for herself. I took the appropriate actions and started to look for a new school that was willing to meet Valentin’s needs. Looking back I can only say: That was exactly the right thing to do!

Life In Stereo

Valentin had always been a shy boy. But with the CI and at a new school that soon changed! He learned to read, write and to do maths within a short time, made friends and gained a lot of self-confidence.

Of course, Valentin’s classmates were curious and wanted to know how his “electronic ear” works. But as soon as they knew, the CI became part of everyday life – just like the other kids’ glasses or braces.

After more than five years of stereo hearing, Valentin has now become a self-confident teenager. As a mother it is especially great to see that he has more confidence in himself than we as parents ever imagined. He is an enthusiastic soccer player, tries out new sports, has made new friends and is part of the youth team of the local volunteer fire department. I could not be happier about our son’s development!