Concentration fatigue for people with hearing loss, can also be seen as tiredness. It’s caused by heavy amounts of concentration required during normal day-to-day activities. It usually kicks in when deaf people have to lip-read, sign or listen to somebody for a long period of time. It is most common in deaf children and young adults, particularly those who are in the education system.
I suffered from this condition a lot during my school years. The problem with concentration fatigue is that most hearing people associate deaf people like myself as being lazy or assume we are not getting enough sleep at night just because we are too exhausted to communicate.
Deaf people have to pay more attention and concentrate more than those with little or no hearing loss. Deafness is not just not being able to hear, it’s like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s the challenge of having to piece everything together, but with some of the pieces missing. Communication for deaf people involves trying to work out what people are saying based on their lip patterns with speech and sound, whilst working out the topic that they are talking about. Body language and facial expressions are also key, but altogether it’s mostly guesswork.
I would begin lessons feeling fresh and ready to learn, but as the day went on, after constant lip-reading and listening, I would get more tired by the minute. I had to take regular breaks and rely on my note taker to write down all the important things I missed out on. If I had a teacher with an accent, beard or someone who talked too fast, it made it much harder for me to concentrate. Sometimes I never knew if the conversation was worth listening to, and if it was nonsense, I had wasted so much energy that I could’ve used for something else.
When the tiredness kicked in, I would yawn constantly. My eyes would droop, and I sometimes even nodded off. Teachers would find it a bit rude and often make comments questioning if I was getting enough sleep.
Sometimes, my support assistants would tell me to look at the teacher or to concentrate, even if I looked away for a minute to relax my eyes. This for me was very frustrating because I felt that it wasn’t my fault. I was too physically and mentally drained to concentrate. I would glance around the room and do my best to stay awake. I always had the notes that my assistant wrote in case I missed out on anything, which I would use for homework or revision.
At the end of the school day, I would get home and either just switch off my hearing aids and relax or go straight to bed. My eyes were stinging from lip-reading all day and I just needed peace and quiet. I often had no energy to do anything else, particularly homework which I spent most of my weekends doing.
People don’t realize the effects concentration fatigue can have on deaf people’s health. I’m not sure if I’m the only deaf person who gets headaches from this fatigue? I would often get them on Monday nights and they were just awful, I couldn’t do anything. I called them the weekly headache and people were often concerned about me.
Additionally, according to one study, “children suffering from recurrent fatigue tend to miss more school (for reasons unrelated to physical ailments); are at increased risk for poor academic performance, making them less prepared to advance; and are more likely to fail a grade than their nonfatigued peers.”
A note to parents and teachers, please don’t tell-off deaf children and young adults for not concentrating. As much as we want to learn, people will never realise how difficult it is to listen, lip-read or sign for a long period of time with a hearing loss.
Regular breaks, fresh air, low background noise levels, minimal communication or even a change in learning methods all help. I found visual presentations and partner work better than listening to a teacher rambling on for hours and hours! It might also be worth trying to encourage the deaf person to sit near the front so they can lip-read and hear more.
There are also some amazing hearing technologies which can be used, for example the Phonak Roger Inspiro, Phonak Roger Pen or Phonak Compilot. I used the Phonak Inspiro throughout most of my secondary education and I don’t know what I would’ve done without it! It’s a great way of amplifying the teacher’s voice over the background noise.
I’d like to end on this note; for any deaf person who suffers from concentration fatigue, please understand that it’s okay to be tired. It’s not your fault.