As a hard of hearing mother of three, I can become frustrated with not hearing my childrens’ voices well and I am not alone. According to the Deafness Research Foundation (www.drf.org), 17 percent of American adults report some degree of hearing loss. Many are parents or grandparents.
In a perfect world, all children would come with captioning devices attached to them so hard of hearing (HOH) folks could understand their words. Until that day, these communication and technology strategies may help.
Make Eye Contact Susan Baird of Ontario has lived with hearing loss since age 13. Her son, who lives at home, is also hard of hearing. Because her kids become frustrated with repeating things, she asks them to tap her shoulder and clearly say “Mom” first. She then makes eye contact, and they begin speaking.
“I tell them always to face me when talking, be close to me when talking and talk slowly to me,” Baird said.
If it is an important conversation topic, Baird takes them to a quiet room to talk so that she and the kids can pay attention.
“Sometimes if they don't do these things, I just don't answer as I have only heard part of the story,” she said.
Consider Technology and Hearing Dogs Hearing our children when in another room of the house is challenging, if not impossible, for HOH adults. In addition to wearing hearing aids or cochlear implants, some parents and grandparents rely on hearing assistive technologies.
To hear her baby’s middle-of-the-night cries, Mary Butler of Tennessee initially opted for the AlertMaster wireless notification system, which flashed a connected lamp and shook her bed to alert her. One drawback was that her youngster had to wail loudly for several seconds for the monitor to be activated. She now uses a simple Fisher Price Lights and Sounds monitor that features illuminated red dots as the crying intensifies. As a back-up, Butler sleeps with her hearing aids on. While the aids are uncomfortable to wear while sleeping, she insists that they are crucial in alerting her to her baby’s sobs.
Vibrating and strobe-flashing monitors can be programmed to alert a parent or grandparent of noise coming from a child’s room. A video monitor is another option, but only for daytime use as there is no guarantee of it waking up a HOH person in the
middle of the night.
A frequency modulated (FM) system can assist with hearing a child in a noisy car or restaurant. The HOH adult attaches a FM system loop to hearing aids, and the child wears a microphone receiver. The child’s voice is transmitted directly to the adult’s aids via the FM system.
For the animal lover, a trained hearing assistance dog may work just as well or better than assistive technology. Denise Portis of Maryland acquired a hearing dog as her kids got older. Canine helper “Chloe” alerts Portis to various sounds and provides balance support due to the Meniere’s Disease Portis has dealt with for five years. “When Chloe is with me, I don’t feel as ‘deaf’ or as ‘helpless,’” Portis shared on her site, http://HearingElmo.blogspot.com. “She makes me feel more ‘normal’ in providing things I cannot do for myself.”
Have Fun with Communication Portis began losing her hearing after the birth of her son. Her daughter was barely a year old. To teach such young children how to communicate with her, Portis devised age-appropriate games.
As toddlers, they played a variation of Peek-a-boo. Portis covered her eyes with her hands and remained quiet. Then she lowered her hands, made eye contact, and spoke to them. “If they grew impatient and said something while I was ‘covered,’ I’d say, ‘Oh...What? Wait I can't see you. I can't hear you!’”, Portis said. “They soon learned to mimic me and would be very quiet and serious when their chubby little baby hands covering their eyes. Then they’d ‘pop’ out and laugh and say, ‘I see you... I see you.’”
The “Guess What? Face” game became popular as the kids grew older. Portis would run over to them and in an excited voice say, “I’ve got my Guess What? Face on!” Then, kneeling at eye level and with her hands on their cheeks, she would tell them something.
Turn Noises Off
Sometimes a parent or grandparent needs a hearing rest. Whether it is a nap or a few minutes of quiet time, we should encourage children to accommodate us in our need for minimal noise.
Russell Barr’s hearing loss is selective. He can understand most men’s voices, but he struggles to hear children. When his preschool-age granddaughter visits, the TV is off and other background noise is reduced. “This translates into more immediate and intimate time with her. And in overcompensating, I actually pay more attention [to her]”, said Barr, a missionary living in Kansas and France. “Who doesn't like to be the center of the universe even for a couple of minutes?”
One part of the day can be declared “Take My Ears Out” time. Portis let her kids know when her hearing aids or cochlear implant was taken out, and they would have to write her a note if they wanted to discuss something. “Now that we have our own computers,” Portis said, “they often IM me during the day even though they are only downstairs. I've even received text messages from my son who prefers not having to come find me!”
Educate Your Child Often
As our children grow, there is much we can teach them about hearing loss. Besides facing us when they talk, kids should be educated about good speech habits, such as enunciating words, speaking slowly, and standing no more than a few feet away when talking to a HOH adult.
Eric Wright of Kansas has newly diagnosed hearing loss. Both he and his family, which includes an 11-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, are learning the best communication strategies through trial and error. When Wright doesn’t catch what his daughter says, even though she is facing him, he asks her to speak clearly into his hearing aided ear. “I have lost those pitches that include small children's voices,” he said. “I also have a hard time when people are talking fast because they are excited. I have to ask people to slow down sometimes.”
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Shanna Groves was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss after the birth of her first child. She was 27. Raised in a hearing family, Shanna traces her hearing loss to a genetic loss on the paternal side of her family. She is mom to three young children, a published author, and speaker. Her books are featured at www.ShannaGroves.com. Shanna blogs about being a hard of hearing mom at http://LipreadingMom.com.