A Family Affair
Hearing loss is a family affair. It can be easy to forget the impact that having a brother or sister with a hearing loss can have on a sibling. I have had the fun of running sibling groups, where kids express how they feel about having a sibling who is deaf or hard of hearing. Inevitably, stresses from one child receiving so much attention, needing to change family plans (like avoiding situations where hearing is difficult), and extra energy to communicate are mentioned. At the same time, siblings talk about positive aspects of having their deaf or hard of hearing brother or sister. They mention people they get to meet, learning about sign language or cochlear implants, talking behind their backs, and just playing with them. Usually the siblings want to acknowledge that it is fine to be happy with their brother or sister, and fine to be mad at them, and most of the joys and stresses do not have to do with the hearing loss. Siblings want to be included, want to have choices, and want to have a role to play in the issues related to the hearing loss, because that is how families work together. These types of sibling issues are just the same as in any other family.
Betsy Kammerer, Ph.D., Psychologist
Avoid being Overprotective of Your Deaf child…
Issues that parents discuss with me (as a psychologist) revolve around expectations for independence. Parents need to not be too lenient or overly forgiving with their child who is deaf or hard of hearing and need not to have different restrictions than they would otherwise impose on hearing siblings either. There is no reason not to expect children who are deaf or hard of hearing to achieve independence that is appropriate for their age. Parents can put mirrors on bicycles, equip teens with email devices and pagers, provide children with a visual or a shaking alarm clock, or any one of a number of devices that facilitate kids participating at age appropriate ways and in age inappropriate activities. Of course parents worry about safety, and they should worry about safety, but families can also creatively problem solve and allow kids to develop skills in line with expectations for their siblings and age peers.
Terrell Clark, Ph.D., Pediatric Psychologist
Many Ways to be Deaf
Often, parents report feeling pulled in many directions about the best way to raise their child. Sometimes they are told to use a specific communication method or a specific approach to education. However, Deaf and hard of hearing children are a heterogeneous group they vary in their degree of hearing loss, their tendency toward being visual or auditory learners, their medical condition, their innate cognitive abilities, and any number of other factors. Although there are still some professionals who believe “this way is the only way,” most professionals who work with deaf children understand that there is no “right way” to be deaf that fits for every child. Families may begin with one approach and realize it doesn’t work well for their particular child. It is important to be flexible. Facilitating communication (in whatever form that takes), forming strong attachments, and letting the child know that he or she is cared about are vital components of forming a strong family and helping the child to succeed in life.
Amy Szarkowski, Ph.D., Former Psychology Post Doctoral Fellow
Coming for an audiological evaluation
Sometimes parents worry about whether their observations will be listened to, and whether their child will “cooperate” for a hearing test. We have two sayings that apply. First, “The parent is the best audiologist.” Parents rarely are wrong in their hunches about their toddler’s hearing. Second, if the first test does not give a conclusive result because the child was tired or fearful or the audiologist was not creative enough in their approach, we say “the audiologist was unable to test the child” rather than “the child was unable to be tested.” It’s great when a mother has her toddler in her lap and the child does start to respond well to the listening games used for the test. The mother drops a quiet kiss of relief on the top of her child’s head during the test. Seeing that little kiss is like a reward sticker for the audiologist. Another is that look of team pride that a parent and older child share as they wait for the elevator as they are leaving after an audiological evaluation. They look as though they feel good about each other and are proud and confident in their joint ability to deal with the next step.
Marilyn Neault, PhD, CCC A, Audiologist
I’ve been there…
Well, I definitely bring a lot of my own personal experience into my work. When I work with parents, I usually let them know within the first few visits that I am hard of hearing myself. I tell them I am very open to talking about my hearing loss, and that they can ask me any questions about my experiences.
Selena Steinmetz, M.A., Education Outreach Coordinator
We, as professionals, can only be helpful to families if we listen well to them. What we learn helps us help other families as they experience similar joys and problems. We particularly try to listen to their values and goals, and even their family style, as they navigate through the decisions they make. No decision is right for every child, and we hope that all choices are well presented to each family, so they make choices that are consonant with who they are as a family.
Betsy Kammerer, Ph.D., Psychologist
Why I became an Audiologist
I was born with a hearing loss and needed a hearing aid all my life. I became an audiologist because of my mother. She instinctively knew I had a hearing loss, but the professionals never believed her. Fortunately, she kept pushing and pushing for a hearing test. I became an audiologist because I want to make it easier for parents when they come to professionals for help. I want them to know that I am going to listen to them and their worries. I usually do not tell anybody that I have a hearing loss. It is pretty noticeable if you are looking at my ears you will know that I have hearing aids. I usually wait for families to ask me questions about my hearing loss. I am more than happy to talk with them about it. I definitely can share a lot of my experiences growing up with hearing aids in terms of school, social, and emotional aspects. They can enjoy being able to ease parent’s minds and let them focus on raising a child and having fun with that rather than focusing on the hearing loss.
Jill Eckerly, Au.D., Audiologist