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!