• This 14-Year Old Doesn't Let Severe Hearing Loss Stop Her From Being Heard

    She suffers from Bilateral Sensorineural Hearing Loss, which was diagnosed when she was a toddler.
    by Kitty Elicay .
This 14-Year Old Doesn't Let Severe Hearing Loss Stop Her From Being Heard
PHOTO BY Justine Arcega-Bumanlag
  • One of mom and dad’s proudest moments is when their child graduates. It doesn’t matter whether she receives an award or not — seeing their son or daughter walk up that graduation stage is accomplishment enough. It's this “proud parent” moment that makes graduation season one of our favorite times on social media. 

    One story that caught our eye was from mom Justine Arcega-Bumanlag, a creative designer and a mom of two, who uploaded on her Facebook account a copy of the speech she made for her youngest daughter, Sophia Alexis’ graduation. Though her 14-year-old daughter finished elementary with honors, the more significant accomplishment was she finished school despite being diagnosed with Bilateral Sensorineural Hearing Loss — Alex has severe to profound hearing loss in both ears.

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    However, Alex wasn’t born deaf. “She was a chubby, happy baby,” Justine notes in her speech. 


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    In an email interview with SmartParenting.com.ph, Justine relates that Alex caught a virus and was given antibiotics when she was a little over a year old. Justine and her husband suspect the drugs prescripted caused Alex’s hearing loss since the most common causes for her condition were age, noise exposure, heredity, and medication.

    Alex’s condition wasn't diagnosed until she was 3 years old. She was experiencing speech delay, but Justine didn’t think it had anything to do with her hearing until one day, Alex pressed her ear over the television speakers. “[The diagnosis] was a shock, but we never cried about it. I knew it would be a different journey for us,” Justine continues in her speech.

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    Justine tells us that Alex had moderate to severe hearing loss at that time and immediate intervention was needed. Alex was advised to wear hearing aids, which Justine and her husband, Jepoy, were able to procure after asking assistance from the PCSO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office). Alex also needed to undergo speech therapy.

    “I remember her getting upset because she couldn’t relate to us clearly what she wanted,” Justine tells us.

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    “It was a tough process. At 3, she was starting all over again. It was as if she was back to being a 6-month old baby.”

    As Justine and Jepoy went from one speech therapist to another, the couple had to face another challenge: Finding the right school for Alex. “Some schools that offered sign language and some with total-communication (both sign language and oral communication). We first enrolled her at SAID (Southeast Asian Institute for the Deaf) when she was 5," Justine says. It was in this school that she learned ASL (American Sign Language), which her parents were encouraged to learn as well. 

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    But Justine and Jepoy wanted their daughter to make use of her speaking ability, so they looked for another school that could enrich her skills. It was then that they found out about Maria Lena Buhay Memorial Foundation. It was the first oral school in the Philippines that was capable of helping hearing-impaired children speak. The school was established in 1987 by Leticia Buhay, a speech therapist whose daughter, Maria Lena, passed away due to cancer.

    “From the very beginning, the school started with love and pure intentions. It’s a small community, and we knew she would be attended to properly.” Justine says. 

    During her first year at Maria Lena, Alex greatly improved in her speech that Justine felt she was ready for a more mainstream school. The next year, they enrolled her in the same school where her older sister, Sam, was studying so she could interact and learn with normal-hearing students.

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    At first, Alex thrived in the new school — she became more sociable and met new friends. But the subjects became hard for her to understand, and Alex began to lose confidence. After four years, Justine and Jepoy decided to move her back to Maria Lena.

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    By the time she returned to her old school, Alex's hearing loss had become severe — she could not hear anything at all. Thanks to Maria Lena’s dedicated, hands-on teachers, Alex bloomed.

    “When she was younger, we would fight over reviews and [while doing] her homework. May iyakan, sigawan moments. But she eventually knew how to handle it and reviewed on her own. She even had words I never knew she would use,” Justine says in her speech.

    Alex also found her passion: Music.

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    “Alex is self-taught in playing drums. When she was 2, she would enjoy it whenever her dad would make her sit on his lap and play the drum. But after she was diagnosed with her hearing loss, she wasn’t that enthusiastic with music as much as before,” Justine explains.

    It all came back when Alex returned to Maria Lena. “The school believes that the students can be heard not only through their speaking voice but also through music,” Justine shares. “Alex was inspired and music became an integral part of her life. It became another avenue for her to express herself and be heard.”

    Now, apart from drums, Alex has learned to play the melodian, piano, and xylophone. She also became a member of the school band.

    Justine is forever grateful to the school for the precious lessons it gave Alex. “Maria Lena is where she learned to speak. She became confident. She became the determined and persistent lady that she is today,” Justine says. 

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    What's next for Alex? Justine and her husband are looking for a new school that will hopefully fulfill Alex's dream to close the gap between the hearing-impaired and the deaf via sign language. “The reason [is] not because she will retire from speaking but [because] she wants to communicate. She wants to mediate. She wants to understand them and translate to those who cannot understand.”

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