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Raising deaf and hard of hearing children.

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Teaching Others About Your Hard-of-Hearing Child.

Teach extended family, friends, teachers and others how best to communicate with your deaf or hard-of-hearing child.

Like most parents of children with hearing loss, you probably find yourself frequently teaching friends, family, educators and others about your child’s condition. The better those people understand how hearing works, the more equipped they will be to maximize communication with your deaf or hard-of-hearing child.

Naturally, you’ll want to explain your child’s hearing loss to people who will have long-term relationships with him or her, such as family members, family friends, neighbors, and teachers. Educating people who have infrequent or short-term interactions with your child is also helpful. Your child will benefit if these folks—such as the librarian, dentist, and babysitter—learn some communication tips.

For both groups of people, start with the basic information: “My child has hearing loss.” Don’t stop there, however: give contextual information to help the person understand the significance of that statement. “My child has hearing loss; this means _________.” Fill in the blank with the appropriate information for your child. For example:

  • She can hear sounds like a loud truck or clapping hands, but she can’t hear sounds like high-pitched voices or digital beeps.
  • He can hear you in a normal conversation, but background noise like music or air conditioning make hearing more difficult for him.

Important facts may be second nature to you, but probably not to those who haven’t been touched by hearing loss. Foremost here is exactly how assistive devices work, which you can cover quickly:

  • Hearing aids work by:
    • enhancing speech sounds
    • reducing background noise
    • cancelling feedback
  • Cochlear implants work by:
    • collecting external sound
    • converting it to electrical impulse signals
    • sending those directly to the hearing nerve inside the brain

Remember: others may not realize that assistive devices don’t give the wearer normal hearing ability. It’s important to emphasize that neither hearing aids nor cochlear implants make hearing perfect. You can say simply, “Sam wears hearing aids, but they don’t completely correct his hearing. For him to understand you, you’ll need to…” and then give specific examples of what tactics the speaker can use, such as:

  • Make sure she has your attention before you begin speaking.
  • Face him so that he can read your lips.
  • Speak slowly and enunciate.
  • Modulate your voice to a lower pitch, but speak naturally; don’t shout.
  • Check to make sure she understood you; ask her to repeat it back, if necessary.

When people are faced with an unfamiliar condition for the first time, they’re sometimes nervous; they may be worried about how to be sensitive to your child’s hearing loss, or concerned they may inadvertently offend. Be open to the natural curiosity of your child’s peers; encourage the questions of friends, family, and others with whom your child interacts. The more questions they ask, the better they will understand how to communicate with your child. Invite questions for both you and your child! Hard-of-hearing children gain the respect of peers when speaking openly about how hearing loss affects their life.

The quick tips described above are probably enough to give someone who won’t have frequent contact with your child, but for family, close friends, and teachers, you can take extra steps. These people can spend the time to build a communication strategy with your child, creating systems or methods of one-on-one interaction. For example:

  • Teachers can develop hand signals (thumbs-up, etc.) to confirm that the FM system is working.
  • Grandparents and other long-distance family can use Skype or other videoconferencing technology to stay in touch with your child, if the direct audio input of headphones coupled with speech reading will be helpful.
  • Visiting friends, family and babysitters might learn to flip light switches on and off, rather than knocking at your child’s bedroom door.

Parents can encourage creativity and foster a sense of playfulness in friends and family members. Perhaps Grandma and little Sally develop a special set of facial expressions for their own, secret communications—this might make Sally feel very special (and Grandma too!). While this extra effort takes time, supporting your child’s communication needs by educating friends and extended family helps foster relationships that are an important part of your son or daughter’s life.

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