Julianne Jennings: Hearing loss too common in Indian kids

"From the earliest documented times in American history, there were reports of deafness among indigenous people. In 1618, the Jesuits in America wrote to church officials inquiring whether a “deaf-mute Indian” could be admitted to the church. In seeking clarification of the church’s stance on the ability of a deaf person to learn and to demonstrate acceptance of the word of God, the pioneer Jesuits must have believed there was such potential. Two decades later, Roger Williams, a church leader and founder of the colony of Rhode Island, noted that among the Wampanoag Native children, “some are born deaf and so dumb;” and deaf Native American, Black Coyote, was one of the first, if not the first, victims at Wounded Knee.

Otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear) is the leading cause of middle-ear disease in American Indian populations; with the majority of cases occurring in young children. Episodes of middle-ear disease are often accompanied by periods of mild-to-moderate conductive hearing loss. Recent studies indicate that the auditory and educational consequences of episodes of otitis media extend far beyond its diagnosis. Numerous perceptual, speech, language, spelling, grammar, cognitive, behavioral, emotional and poor educational performance has been identified. At the age of 6, I had suffered the consequences of otitis media leaving me with unilateral hearing loss that caused me to withdraw from many school social activities."

Get the Story:
Julianne Jennings: The Silent Ones: Indians and Hearing Loss (Indian Country Today 3/16)

Join the Conversation