Douglas L. Beck, AuD, speaks with Justin Osmond, author of Hearing with My Heart, about growing up with severe-to-profound hearing loss, hearing aids, aural rehabilitation, and more.
Academy: Hi, Justin. Great to catch up with you again.
Osmond: Hi, Doug. Always good to speak with a long-time friend!
Academy: Thanks, Justin. I guess we’ve known each other for 10 years or so and I’ve always thought of you as one of the truly outstanding and amazing people in my life. But then I read your new book and I learned so much about how you became the tremendous person you are—despite obstacles that could have derailed you at any moment.
Osmond: Thanks, Doug. I don’t know about “amazing,” but I’m grateful for the many people that have touched my life and have inspired me to be who I am today. Hopefully, my book portrays my sincere appreciation for all those that have touched my life one way or another.
Academy: I should say right from the start, for those that don’t know and really want to know, your dad (Merrill) was one of the famous singing Osmond Brothers, and indeed, your aunt and uncle are Donny and Marie.
Osmond: Right, I’m the proud son of Merrill, the lead singer of the Osmond Brothers. And Donny and Marie who? Ha! Yes, they all make me so proud! I love them very much!
Academy: And as dynamic and famous as they are, you are a particularly well-rounded and compassionate person…and that doesn’t always happen when people come from famous show-biz families!
Osmond: I’m just an ordinary guy from an extra-ordinary family. But we can all be extra-ordinary in our own little way.
Academy: Absolutely, that certainly comes through in the book. I’m amazed at the quantity and quality of your charitable works and your travel schedule. You travel more than just about anyone I know; you seem to be in a constant state of motion! In fact, I know you just got off a plane from Mexico. In fact, you’ve done charitable work in every Central American country and most countries in South America and I know you’ve done charitable work all over the United States and Africa with the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
Osmond: You’re right. I just pulled into my driveway and I’m now unpacking and doing my laundry before I leave again tomorrow to do another hearing mission. Thanks to the Starkey Hearing Foundation and their amazing outreach program, I am privileged to play a small part and help children all around the world learn to hear and listen and learn to use their hearing aids—so it’s a joy to me and very personal because I can relate with these kids.
Academy: I can tell. And I should also point out that you’re a “kid magnet.” I’ve seen you at many events and meetings and children tend to gravitate towards you to be part of the sharing and caring—they seem to trust you and just enjoy being in your presence and I know for you it’s the same.
Osmond: Thanks, Doug. I love kids so much! I don’t know. Perhaps when I see these little hearing-impaired children, I can speculate of what it was like when I was their age. I know the struggles that these kids will go through as they journey through a world void of sound.
Academy: Okay, so with all that to set the stage, tell me why you wrote the book, I mean, why now? It’s pretty unusually for someone in their mid-thirties to write an autobiography.
Osmond: I’ve been richly blessed up to this point in my life and I believe that “where much is given, much is required.” I have been surrounded by wonderful friends and experiences that I wanted to get it written in a laid-back casual fashion to tell the story of the people who have inspired me, touched my life, and helped me along the way—particularly my mother. She was with me every step of the way from my diagnosis to helping me with my education, speech, comprehension, listening skills, reading, etc.
The book is dedicated to my sweet mother and the book is my effort to help “pay it forward” and to address and hopefully inspire others who may be going through similar challenges. Again, it’s very special for me because I’m there when children get to hear for the very first time, and it brings me back to when the same thing happened to me—hearing for the very first time through hearing aids.
Doug, you know, we have to build an income by what we get—but we enhance our lives and the lives of others by what we give. But most importantly, I wanted to convey in my book my utmost gratitude to my Father in Heaven for allowing me to Hear with my Heart.
Academy: Well said! Of course the book’s main character is you, but you’re right, it really does reveal many key players and people who’ve impacted your life and the decisions you’ve made. And when you refer to your “diagnosis,” we should explain you have a severe-to-profound hearing loss and you’ve been wearing hearing aids your whole life. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you were diagnosed at about age 2 or so?
Osmond: That’s right, just a few months before my second birthday.
Academy: And in 2011, that would be considered a fairly late point to get a diagnosis and start learning to listen, but when you were two years old, newborn hearing screening was not the standard of care. As best I recall from those days in the late 1970s—many children were not diagnosed until they were two to three years old, so it wasn’t unusual to get a diagnosis at the age you were diagnosed back then. However, now, it would be considered very late.
Osmond: Right. Today, newborn hearing screenings have changed everything as far as early identification and treatment for hearing loss and of course, newborn screenings provide the families with so many more options when hearing loss is diagnosed early and treated right away.
Academy: I agree entirely. And so if you don’t mind me saying, your speech and language skills are remarkable. Clearly you received lots of support with regard to your education and in particular with speech, hearing and language?
Osmond: Thank you. As soon as my mom learned about my hearing loss she made sure I had amplification immediately. They took me all over the country. We visited your old boss, Dr. House, in Los Angeles, and we talked about all the options including a cochlear implant and I was pretty close to getting one, but I was doing so well with my current hearing aids that we decided to see how far I could go with my new body aid! And I was so fortunate because I had monthly evaluations and intense daily comprehensive speech and listening therapy—and that went on for about 12 years.
Academy: This is really an important point and I’m so glad you mentioned the intensity and duration of your speech and language and hearing habilitation program—because it really does take an incredible effort and significant fortitude to stick with it. But as you demonstrate every day in your daily life—it’s worth it! There’s an interesting story in the book about how and why your mom realized something was wrong…can you tell me that?
Osmond: Sure. When I was a little boy, I always followed my brother around. Everywhere he went, I followed. Any time my mom called us, I followed him. When it was time to eat, or time to watch cartoons, I just followed. Then one day, I wasn’t watching and he went one way and I went the other. I wasn’t watching and I didn’t know where to go. That’s when my mom realized something was wrong.
Academy: Justin, another interesting note for people reading this interview is for them to realize that we’re actually doing this interview on the phone because we couldn’t get together in person last week face-to-face while we were both in Chicago. So at this moment, I’m in Texas and you’re in Utah and you’re holding the phone up to your very tiny completely-in-the-canal (CIC) hearing aids. And as you and I have previously discussed, CICs would not be my first recommendation for your type and degree of hearing loss—but you do remarkably well with them and you have not missed a word or asked for a repeat.
Osmond: Thanks, Doug. Thanks to modern-day technology, I am able to hear very well. I currently wear the Starkey CICs and they allow me to do very well in situations that would be very difficult for many people with my type of hearing loss. I also have mini-behind-the-ears (BTEs) with receivers in the ear. These are called receiver-in-the-canal (RIC), which I wear often, too, and they actually provide a directional microphone that I love.
But the trick is, for me, because I had 12 years of learning how to hear and listen, I’ve become very skilled at taking small bits of acoustic information and turning that into something I can listen to, understand, and make sense of. I think my many years of auditory training has allowed me and prepared me to do that. It’s also given me the confidence and emotional balance I need to succeed in this fast-competitive hearing world we live in. Unfortunately, people with less training will have a much harder time because they haven’t learned to listen as well or as intently. As I get older, I’m even more appreciative of the excellent training I had, which allows me to do what I do.
Academy: Excellent point. I mention in my presentations on cognition and audition that there is so much more to consider than hearing. That is, of course one must hear the sound in order to be able to use it, but listening involves the integration of cognitive skills (top-down) as well as sensory input (bottom-up) and the people with the best cognitive abilities tend to do better with amplification than those with lesser skills.
Osmond: Yes, I agree—and it can be significantly impacted just by practicing and repeating listening skills and reading skills over and over. This has helped develop stronger cognitive skills and more developed sensory input for me. This way, I am able to participate and engage in a normal hearing society. Again, thanks to my mom and my many speech therapists over the years for believing in me and Starkey for providing the best hearing aids for amplification!
Academy: My dear and brilliant friend, Dr. Carol Flexer, often teaches moms and dads and professionals about pediatrics and aural habilitation/rehabilitation. One of my favorite messages she delivers is her response to the question many parents ask. “How much reading should we do with our child every evening?” Carol’s response is something like “About 100 books a day ought to do it.” In other words, set the bar high and aim for the maximum.
Osmond: Exactly. If we could achieve the same results with less work—that would be great. But it’s just not going to happen most of the time without hard work. My mom read to me every single day when I was a child. That was an incredible commitment of her time, and represents an act of unselfish love and dedication which was just awesome. It takes a lot of effort and physical/mental exertion and the individual needs to focus and pay attention to build-up their confidence.
I remember the scariest job I ever had was working at a hotel front desk interacting with guests who didn’t know I was deaf. I remember thinking to myself, if I can focus and work really hard I would get it and understand what they were trying to tell me—it was very difficult, but it worked! And so that belief system, believing in myself and my abilities, made a huge difference.
Academy: And of course, as you mentioned, the technology matters a great deal, too.
Osmond: Oh yes, absolutely. I remember trying digital hearing aids when they first came out. But since we hear with our brain, I was used to my analog hearing aids and I preferred the analog units back then.
Academy: Right, and to be fair, digital power aids were not very powerful back then. In fact, digital power aids have only recently (in the last few years) caught up to and surpassed analog power aids. Frankly, when speaking with patients, I don’t even mention digital versus analog because digitals are the only product truly available across the board and I’m very comfortable saying digitals are vastly superior in every respect to analogs. It’s sort of like…why discuss a carburetor with a car customer when the only thing available is fuel injection, which is superior to carburetors in every way.
Osmond: I have a name that people call me “power junkie.” I love amplification and power. At the time, digitals just couldn’t get me the power I wanted and needed, so I stuck with the linear aids. However, today, the sound quality available in these tiny little digitals is fantastic, the power is wonderful and I can even use them for telephone conversations, like this one! And you’re right, I’ve been wearing digitals for four or five years now and there’s no going back.
Academy: In the book, you talk about how other children would sometimes make fun of you for wearing hearing aids and how it really can hurt to be the unusual child. And with respect to hearing aids, the message I usually deliver is that in general, if you can do the same thing with a bigger and a smaller hearing aid, it’s best to select the smaller one. Cosmetics are a major issue for most people and for teenagers—it’s often the only issue!
Osmond: I’ll admit, it was very tough to wear hearing aids in social situations as a teenager—and being a teenager was hard enough! But today, I’ve learned that it’s better to be placed in an awkward situation and wear the best hearing aids recommended by your audiologist and learn/hear something as opposed to not wearing any hearing devices at all and miss out on life’s precious sounds. You’ll soon find out that a hearing loss is more obvious than a hearing aid.
Academy: I agree entirely. Justin you’ve been very generous with your time and it’s always a delight to speak with you. I hope everyone will get a copy of the book and I know those that do will learn quite a bit about determination, fortitude and the benefits of hard and consistent work. You’re an inspiration and I’m proud to know you.
Osmond: Thanks, Doug. It’s an honor to know you.
Justin Ormond is the author of Hearing with My Heart and the son of Merrill Osmond, lead singer of the Osmond Brothers and nephew to Donny and Marie Osmond.
Douglas L. Beck, AuD, Board Certified in Audiology, is the Web content editor for the American Academy of Audiology.
For more information about Justin, visit www.justinosmond.com. His book, Hearing with My Heart, is available on amazon.com.