Teen Life: My Family has Hearing Loss… but I don’t
Growing up as a “normal hearing” teenager in a deaf family can bring interesting experiences.
Phone calls my be replaced by text messaging, debates with siblings may be mostly done by lipreading, but overall, the same family dynamics occur as they would in any situation.
I talked to Anna, a 13-year-old from Carmarthenshire in West Wales, to try and understand what it is like for a hearing teenager to grow up in a family with deaf and hard of hearing members.
Mat: How would you describe yourself in a short sentence?
Anna: I would say I am quite talkative, friendly, creative and sometimes shy. My hobbies include art, music, shopping and spending time with my family’s two dogs.
Mat: You live with your mum, dad and two younger brothers, Rhys and Harri. Your Mum (“Mam” in Welsh) and middle brother Rhys have a profound and severe hearing loss and wear hearing aids. Do you think growing up with a profoundly deaf parent has given you a different skill set to your friends who have hearing parents?
Anna: I don’t feel any different to my friends, but there are different ways of communicating with my family. For example, I know I can’t just phone my mother if I need to talk to her. I have to send her a text because she can’t hear me on the phone.
I also tell her when the alarm on the cooker goes off, as she can’t hear it and I don’t want my dinner to burn! ?. If my dad isn’t home, I’m the one who answers the phone. I’m quite good at taking messages now!
Mat: How old do you think you were when you started to understand about a hearing loss?
Anna: I don’t really know. I’ve just grown up with it. I’ve never known my mum to be any different!
Mat: How would you explain what a hearing loss is to someone who is 13 and never come across a deaf person before?
Anna: That’s a tricky one! I would say that some people just can’t hear very well, but not everybody with a hearing loss is the same. Some people have more of a hearing loss than others. Some people need to lip read. Some people need to sign.
Mat: What challenges do you think a hearing loss presents for your Mum and brother Rhys?
Anna: They can’t hear on the phone so they don’t answer it! Rhys finds listening exercises at school difficult because he needs to lip read.
Mat: What adaptations do you have to make, if any, to accommodate Rhys when you play?
Anna: Like most brothers and sisters we argue a lot! But when we do get on, I have to make sure he hears me to understand what game we are playing or get his attention if someone’s calling him and he can’t hear them.
Mat: Does your family use sign language?
Anna: No, not really but sometimes Mam and Rhys will gesture or sign to each other if they are too far apart to talk.
Mat: Do you think you may learn sign language one day?
Anna: I already know the finger spelling alphabet, but Mam and Rhys understand speech when they can lip read so I haven’t really had to learn more.
Mat: Does it bother you when people ask you questions about your families hearing loss?
Anna: No, not at all!
Mat: What advice would you give to a teenager with a deaf sibling?
Anna: Be a bit patient!
Mat: If you could invent one gadget for your Mum and Rhys, what would it be?
Anna: Better hearing aids that could help them to hear the same as me.
If you are a normal hearing teenager in a deaf family, I would love to hear if you have different experiences to Anna. Please leave a comment!