Growing Up Deaf - Being Teased as a Child

Teasing Causes Never Forgotten Pain

Schoolgirl being bullied in school corridor
Phil Boorman / Getty Images

Growing Up Deaf Serial

The first time I wrote this article, I left out some things. The shootings in Colorado and the media focus on bullying's effects convinced me I should update this article and add in the things that I had left out about my experiences as a deaf child/teenager. Teasing is an inevitable part of growing up for anyone, including deaf children. But it hurts so much more when you are truly "different" from the others.

Start of Teasing

The teasing began when I was in the fourth or fifth grade, and new to my community, having moved there to attend a mainstream program for the deaf. A little girl my age in my neighborhood invited me to her house -- or so I thought. When I got to her house, no one was there.

On the playground, I tried to get included in other kids' play. They wouldn't include me, and I had to resort to playing with the other deaf/hoh children at recess, particularly those who were also bullied or ostracized socially.

Only two things about my sixth grade graduation stand out in my memory: the fact I had to wear a dress (I was going through a stage in which I disliked dresses) and the fact that although the girls were paired up with the boys for "marching" down the aisle, the boy who was paired with me refused to hold my hand. While that was not teasing or bullying, it came close. I don't know if he refused because I was deaf or simply because I was a girl or he did not like me, but I was sensitive and felt it was because I was deaf.

Teasing Gets Worse

But Junior High was the worst of the teasing and bullying. Junior High is the age when pre-teens and teens' hormones really start to kick in, and self-esteem is particularly fragile. Kids that age look to pick on, tease or bully anyone who is different. The kid who is seen as different can be overweight, slow, or have a disability such as deafness.

Kids in the '70s were not as sensitive to differences as they are today, when awareness of differences is drummed into them from the time they are just out of diapers.

In my neighborhood, the two kids chosen to be the picked on, teased and bullied kids were myself and my best friend, a girl who was slow due to some brain damage. The teasing and torment of Junior High traumatized me to a point that I did not overcome the trauma completely until sometime during the deaf college years.

I had to walk up a hill every day to get to the bus stop. As I approached the bus stop, I never knew if I would be the bullied target of rocks, dirt, spitballs, or just teased with plain old-fashioned name-calling. On the bus, no one would sit with "the deaf girl." I eventually befriended a boy who was also the victim of teasing and bullying, and he was the only one willing to sit with me.

Friends with the "deaf" girl?

That boy and I became good friends, or so I thought. He would not visit me in the daytime, only in the evenings.

Years later after our friendship had ended, my sister told me the truth - the boy had avoided coming over in daylight during the 7th grade because he did not want it to be known that he was friends with the "deaf girl."

Teasing Continues

The teasing did not stop once we entered the halls of Junior High. I could not go to my locker without hearing my name called in a strange, mocking way. They did this to make fun of my "deaf" speech.

Coming home from school as a deaf girl, I would comb my hair and spitballs would fall out. The trauma of junior high has largely faded from memory now, but back then I would be so upset that my younger sister would sometimes come home from elementary school to find me crying.

After school, a small gang continued to tease me whenever I went to play at the neighborhood clubhouse. I was poorly equipped to handle it because although I had a good vocabulary, deafness had prevented me from learning certain crucial social skills such as what the "f" word meant! So when the kids used swear words in their teasing, I either did not know what it meant or took it at literal face value. This teasing continued to escalate - and I did not know how to stop it - to the point that I became traumatized just passing by the clubhouse.

Teasing Finally Ends

The ironic thing is that in later years, some of the same kids who had teased, tormented, or mocked me in Junior High became friendly towards me as they matured. The teasing finally came to a halt about mid-way through the ninth grade as the other kids finally realized I was the same as them even if I was deaf. Heck, I even had my first boyfriend by then!

Deafness Still Causes Frustrations

Even so, I still had problems, such as difficulty getting anyone to join me for lunch. I remember going up to tables full of kids I thought were nice kids and asking if I could join them. They would start laughing, and being deaf and sensitive I had no way of knowing if they were laughing at me or something else. As I was not welcomed, it was easy for me to think that I was being laughed at.

Growing Up Deaf Serial

Not Teasing, But Cruelty

I was not that athletic, but not much worse than other students. In gym class, I was always picked last or not at all (sound common? It has even been written about in Ann Landers' columns). I remember one such gym class rather fondly. We were playing a game that involved throwing a ball over a net and catching it. If you dropped the ball you were out of the game. No one picked me (possibly because of my deafness), and the teacher did nothing about it.

Angry, I marched over to one team and joined them. They did not dare to object. The game started and I began to play - and kept playing until I was the only one left! Without realizing it, I had won the game. It made no difference though - I was still not picked for teams after that.

Teasing or Bullying Experience Common

I was not the only deaf/hard of hearing person in my area to suffer from teasing. Stories like mine are all too common among deaf/hoh people in my generation. Others actually had it worse. One boy in junior high/early high school was beaten up so badly by the hearing teenage boys that he had to be hospitalized.

Teasing Has Serious Effects

How did all that teasing affect me as a deaf girl? It had a PROFOUND effect. Even though some of my friends in high school were hearing, I became filled with hatred for hearing people. I was not aware of how deep that hatred was until my first year of college, when one day I kicked over a garbage can in the student lounge.

The resident advisor took me aside to ask, "Why do you hate hearing people?" That "woke" me to the truth of how much I was hurting, and I began working on overcoming my hatred. It took me four years to learn to stop feeling so angry towards hearing people.

I also had dreams and fantasies of "getting even." In my fantasies, the kids who were mean would apologize to me publicly.

In one dream, I took chalk and wrote obscenities all over the high school parking lot blacktop. Thank goodness it was the 1970s and not the 1990s, or who knows what I, then an angry, hurt deaf teen suffering from the teasing and bullying, could have done!

Continue Reading