Guest Author - Rowena Vnuk
Christmas is here again! Oh what wonderful times we’ll have, catching up with family and friends – OR – what fun we’ll have, getting some messages right and some wrong, simply because our hearing loss makes communication so difficult!
Mmm. Time to remember a few basic communication survival tips. You might, for instance:
• ensure you can see the speaker’s face
• ensure that where possible, anyone speaking does not have the light behind their face(s)
• if necessary, ask people to repeat what they’ve said, particularly the first few words
• remind people that shouting doesn’t help
• remind people that more than one person speaking at the same time makes it difficult for you to understand
• make sure your batteries are not flat and carry spares
• reduce background noise where this can be done
• carry a note pad and a pen for backup should someone need to write something down for you
The ultimate social gift – Being there
Having checked these tips, there’s more to consider. Christmas (or any social festivity) is a time of getting together with family and friends and possibly meeting new people. You might think it’s going to be too hard to even try to communicate at these events. Since you always have the same problem, year in year out, you might be planning to avoid these social functions.
That’s a pity. The ultimate gift you can give, I believe, is being there in the company of others, finding out what they have been doing, discussing what is happening, and working out future activities with them. Communication is important not only just to understand what is being said, but also to understand what interests people. I like to think, too, that other people appreciate me being there, because I can provide information they can use or enjoy as well.
However, there are common strategies to avoid such as incessant talking and withdrawal. To communicate and socialise well, a balance needs to be reached between these two opposite strategies.
Incessant talking is a no-no
Felicity Bleckly (2009) suggests in her article ‘Do we deaf talk too much?’ that deaf people talk incessantly to ‘hide’ their disability. She says that:
“...another coping mechanism for the deaf is ‘incessant talking’. ... When I researched incessant talking I found it isn’t only deaf people who do it. It is a common addiction and often used by people who are seeking attention and approval... While this is perhaps true, ironically for a deaf person, it isn’t the attention or approval they seek, but rather they are trying to hide their affliction.”
I think that’s true for some deaf and hearing-impaired people. Whatever the reason, incessant talking stops you from learning about the world through conversation. Incessant talkers miss out on learning how other people think and act, and this can cause social and cultural isolation.
Withdrawal is also a no-no
I suggested earlier that some people with hearing loss might find communication so difficult to deal with that they decide not to go to a party and stay home. This is withdrawal - another negative coping strategy. If you do this, the frustration of not hearing at the party is resolved, but your relief is likely to be short-lived. In the long term, withdrawal brings unhappiness to yourself and to others, as you lose awareness of current news from family and friends. There are websites and fact sheets (see below) which recognise that hearing loss is associated with withdrawal and isolation, and most recommend remaining involved in social events, no matter how hard it seems. Make sure you get the best hearing solution you can and use some of the other coping strategies listed above.
Patience is the answer
My recommendation is to be patient, not only with others trying to get their message across to you, but also with yourself when you are trying to communicate with your family and friends. It is important to find that balance between talking too much and withdrawing. You need to recognise your own feelings and manage them appropriately, while using the best hearing devices available. This takes considerable effort, but most people respond positively if they know you want to be involved with them.
When communicating with others, try to clarify questions ensuring you follow other people’s statements. For example, you could ask questions in a conversation about Linda, such as
• Did you say that Linda’s having another baby? – or -
• Oh, so Linda’s having another baby! When’s the baby due?
This can be a constructive way to summarise what you have heard, shows you are following or highlights where you are getting lost. Giving feedback to the speaker is important to show you are interested in talking to them and making sure you have the correct facts.
Having a hearing loss IS very frustrating. But not having fun with others and being part of a family or community is so detrimental to personal health that you should persevering in the face of difficulty, rather than not persevering and getting depressed. Take a stand and enjoy being with others!
Bleckly, F. (2009). ‘Do we deaf talk too much?’ BellaOnline, (2009)
This article is written by Rowena Vnuk. The purpose of this information to help people manage and live with their hearing loss. However, this information is intended only to provide a perspective on matters of interest and to enable people to seek other advice; information found in these essays are not definitive, and thus readers should seek other advice where necessary. For the purposes of BellaOnline website, I give Felicity Bleckly permission to publish this information on the BellaOnline deafness site.