Dealing with Social Growth
For any parent, middle school is a scary time of our growing children. For pre-teens and teens who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, the concerns are 10-fold. Another one of our readers sent in this question. Here is Kathy’s take on it.
Q: My daughter started her first day of 6th grade a few weeks back, and on top of the typical middle-school obstacles we expected to face, it has been a challenge to keep her confidence up. Till now, she’s always been proud, motivated, and outgoing. Now she has become concerned with wearing her hearing aids, getting behind in class and, of course, the usual concern—making friends. Any advice you have to offer will be greatly appreciated. – Concerned Dad in Dallas
A: Kathy: Dear Concerned Dad, your worries are right on point for this point in their lives. What your daughter is experiencing was very similar to Emma’s experience—hitting about the same age when kids start realizing there are differences among them. Having walked this journey for so long, and alone (90% of hearing impaired or deaf children are born to hearing parents), I would be happy to share our successes and failures. Most parents who have hard-of-hearing/deaf kids have no clue what to do and there is so little help. Being aggressive is key, but it’s a lonely journey and a daily battle.
We went through the same thing of the all the social stigmas and feelings of being left out or not fitting in. That is probably Emma’s hardest thing to deal with still—feeling socially left out just because you cannot hear what is going on. Most people don’t realize as a HOH or deaf individual you can’t hear in social settings. You can’t hear multiple people talking, you can’t talk on a phone, or hear in a car or hear behind you. You can’t hear in restaurants, or hear your classmates in class, you can’t hear the preacher, you can’t hear the words to songs, you can’t her the audio on TV or movies, you can’t hear at the football games or the dances . . . the list goes on and on and isolation and loneliness sets in.
As long as you continue to show her support and walk with her through these changes, she will do awesome and learn to navigate this as she grows.
Grammar school was rough, middle school was horrid and about 11th grade things started to change for the better—but those early teens years can be really long and difficult. It is a hard time for normal hearing kids at that time in their life, but you add this in and its rough, but there is hope and a light at the end of the tunnel.
Emma was very consumed with the look of deafness (speech and aids) and being labeled the “deaf girl.”
At this point in our lives, we are on the other side of the mountain and can look back at all the years and years of hardships, struggles and heartbreaks and see His plan was already in place for Emma’s life and we didn’t even realize it. I wish my younger self could have seen into the future that it was going to be alright. It was not always easy and was a long, long journey but now we see His redemption and His faithfulness. I think if someone could wave a magic wand and make Emma hear – she would choose not to – she has embraced this and this what makes her Emma.
Couple of things I want to share of just years of trial and error.
1. Aggressive Speech therapy is crucial to fitting into a hearing world. We did this from 4 years old to 9th grade . . . fought Emma on it from 6th grade on.
2. Education—do not hold them back—they can do it. Brain works fine, just the ears don’t. Education is freedom.
3. Hearing aids and FM system are not optional—this was a struggle during the early teen years because it points out the differences to classmates. Emma won’t live without it now and still uses it in college along with a captionist. In most public school systems, they provided this for the child.
4. Meet with every teacher each year (even if it six teachers). Go over hearing audiograms, equipment, limitations. I had an audio I played for them to show them how she heard and helped them really understand the magnitude of the hearing loss. I also had several pages typed up that I would leave with the teachers of ways to teach someone who is deaf or hard-of-hearing. Go on every field trip or school outing that is possible. Let her see you advocate the system for her. Emma is now her own advocate, but she watched us fight through it for years.
5. Get involved in church youth groups or faith-based organizations. Get her into faith-based camps with close friends so she feels secure going and let her tell her story. Camp was a huge turning point for Emma and the start of her telling her story, hardships and her testimony to help others. It gave the focus to others and not putting the focus on herself and her problems. The key is you can’t focus on yourself when you are focusing on others. Volunteering is another avenue.
6. Encourage social media and phones—this goes against every parenting advice, but I started this early because she needed a way to be connected to her peers and be social. HOH/deaf individuals can’t hear on phones and being social is a hard thing for them in this technology-rich world. Texting is a huge part of Emma’s social life even today and my main communication with her as college student. I let her get a phone and allowed her to be on social media around 6th grade, which is really early. Now Emma did not face any bullying, although exposed to very insensitive kids, she was never bullied probably due to a small Christian school. So depending upon the environment at her school, this would need to be considered when allowing social media early. You can start with Instagram and then move onto others later when her friends start getting Facebook and Twitter accounts. You don’t want to open the doors for her to be bullied but if you think that is not an issue—I would start it early.
7. Do not set limits nor did we let her use it as a crutch. This was probably the most important thing we did for her. We never told her she couldn’t do something and set the bar really high—probably too high is some instances. Sometimes they need to take a few days to grieve about something (and the parents too) and that’s OK. But we very much said, “Life isn’t fair and unfortunately you found out really early.” But we would grieve that day and the next day, we brushed ourselves off and we do life again. Even with schoolwork, sometimes there are times that her hearing did cause a problem and we would fight to the death to make it right with the school, but then there were times she would try to use the hearing as a crutch and we would call her on it and say it is harder for you, but you can do this. I would say do not enable, they can do it. Again brain works, ears don’t.
8. Get involved. Whatever interests her push her to do it. Try out for cheerleading, sign up for the talent show, take music lessons, take art lessons, tryout for sports—whatever makes her tick push her. Don’t be limited by the hearing. You can make the hearing loss work with some adjustments.
9. Caption everything that has it. Leave captions on all the TV in your home and part of the family and “not just for her.” You will end up loving it yourselves. Captions make entertainment possible. Also looking up the words to music is key. Emma has the phone in her hand and is all the time looking up words to songs as she hears them so she know what it says. HOH/deaf are very visual and usually memorize quickly. When Les Miserables came out in the theater, before Emma went to see it, she looked up all the words to the songs so she would enjoy the experience. Also look for theaters that provide captioning machines so she can see movies with captions. Captions also make for really good readers and reading is a huge part of a person’s life with hearing loss. You don’t have hear well to read and get lost in a book.
10. Get her involved in the advocacy. It is personal fight. Fight for captions, fight for t-coil loops, fight for deaf rights and fight for insurance to cover hearing aid costs. It is the most overlooked group of folks and it becomes a battle worth fighting for and should be something that is a passion for her.
11. Cultivate those friends who are compassionate. Have them over, plan fun things, make your house the house everyone wants to be at. Talk to the parents of the friends and let them know the struggles so they can talk to their children. I’ve even had teachers have me come into the classroom and explain it. Most of the time, it is ignorance. People are like “I will talk louder” or they treat her like she’s dumb and over enunciate or avoid her all together because they aren’t sure what to do.
12. Research! There are tons of programs out there to help. In Texas, they offer a Deaf Certificate for paid college tuition to any public universities. Depending upon hearing levels, full tuition is paid for and it does not factor economic status in it. In Emma’s case we had to have her declared legally deaf. Emma was actually relieved to be labeled legally deaf because she felt like she finally fit somewhere—she was in limbo of the hearing impaired and the hearing world. Also in Texas public universities, they have to supply you with a captionist or interpreter depending on your loss. Emma thought she would hate this and be embarrassed, but it is best thing ever. She still uses her FM system and takes her own notes, but loves the captioning and has become really good friends will all her captionists.
Whew! That was very long. I hope this is helpful to you and to all other parents and guardians out there who are looking for some answers.
Have a question you’d like to ask Emma or Kathy? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.