Social gatherings & other noisy get togethers.
There’s one thing that often struck terror in my heart when I was a teenager: social gatherings.
I was actually a very outgoing teen but, in group situations, I became a social hermit. One night, a bunch of friends urged me to go out on the boat with them in the middle of the lake—at night. I tried to excuse my way out of it, but my friends would have no part of it.
Inside, my heart was beating like crazy, because I knew that it was impossible to lip-read in the pitch-black darkness. I spent the entire night sitting in the corner of the boat, feeling quite sorry for myself. My well-meaning friends tried to help. Someone found a flashlight, but the bouncing light and shadows did little to improve the situation.
I’m sure most of you who have hearing issues can relate to my teenage distaste for a game I called, “social ping pong.” You know how that goes — you start off following one conversation, but then another person joins in. Then, just when you figure out the topic and context, someone else jumps in. Toss in some laughter, a little background noise, and bodies shifting in different directions – and you’ve lost the entire thread of the conversation. Worse, perhaps you never got any of it to begin with.
Along with “social ping pong,” comes “social bluffing.” Social bluffing is pretending to hear or understand something that is being said, and behaving in a way that indicates you understand, even when you have little or no clue as to what is being said. And as a teenager, I was the Queen of Social Bluffing. I’d toss in a thoughtful nod in mid-conversation and I made sure to laugh when everyone else laughed.
Here’s what I know now. When it comes to playing the game of social bluffing, no one wins. Both parties lose out; the deaf or hard of hearing person misses out on conversation, and the hearing person never learns adaptive strategies to assist in better communication.
Acceptance leads to advocacy
After I became deaf at the age of nineteen, an ironic thing happened: I became more assertive about my communication needs. Before that could happen, however, I had to get into a place where I was really comfortable with myself, and willing to explain my communication needs. I also had to shift my perspective, because communication is a two-way street. What fun is it to have a one-sided conversation, or none at all, because you’re trying to bluff your way through it?
I was fortunate to grow up in a family with five generations of folks with all different degrees of hearing loss. I say fortunate, because we all learned how to take turns during group gatherings and slow down the ping pong game.
My husband, who is also deaf, grew up in a family with five boys who could all hear. He was sometimes left out of the fast-paced conversations, or someone had to summarize the conversations for him. When I first began to go out to lunch with my mother-in-law and my sisters-in-law, I had to outline the communication strategies for me to be included in every conversation. It works, because I don’t miss out on any conversation that flows during our lunches—unless they unknowingly slip into old habits. All it takes is for me to ask them to rephrase or summarize, and then we get back on track again.
Hear are some communication tips you might want to consider implementing:
- Know Thyself: If you’re not comfortable with every aspect of your hearing loss, now’s the time to get comfortable. You cannot effectively assert your communication needs until you find a way to be at peace with the fact that you are deaf or hard of hearing. Seek out a mentor who can help you work through this process. You’ll be glad you did.
- Be Proactive: Figure out what you need to change in your surroundings to meet your communication needs. Move to the front of the room, the back of the room, or outside, etc. Move away from the glare of a window. Request brighter lighting in a dim room. Ask people to face you or speak a bit louder. Ask yourself, what can be changed in this situation to improve my communication access?
- Request communication devices, services, or interpreters in advance.
- Be innovative: Use an iPad or phone to ask someone to type out a word or summary in group events.
What it comes down to is this: you’re the only one who knows what’s truly needed to make communication happen and it’s up to you to educate others about your communication needs.