Yo, hearing care professionals! Hey, hearing loss groups! In your area, where can a family sign up for a communication strategies course? (And I’m not talking about mandatory programs involving a psychologist or the police.)
It’s tough enough for a hard of hearing person to find access to effective aural rehabilitation, let alone a program that includes communication partners like spouses and children past the spit-up stage.
The need is great. In many families, hearing loss is the elephant in the room, the monkey wrench thrown into family communication. Attending even a single facilitated session on communication strategies can make a big difference in the quality of family life. I know what you might be thinking – and to keep this animal analogy going – you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. People may not break down the door to sign up for the session or course, but the ones who do will find it life-changing.
It can be a bit lonely as the only HoH in the house. Just because a family is well-versed in effective communication strategies, doesn’t mean it actually practices them. This is not because of pettiness, negligence or a lack of caring, but simply because family members, in the moment, can forget the basics of good communication. A turned-away face or a question bellowed from upstairs can suck the pleasant air out of a room in two seconds flat, kick-starting a familiar scenario of rising irritation and heated words.
Me: Why did you do that?
Him: (sigh) Do what?
Me: You started talking to me as you walked away. You KNOW I can’t understand when you do that.
Him: Sorry, hon, I forgot.
Me: You forgot, you forgot! How many times will it take before you remember..?
Him: Until death do us part, OK? I will always forget sometimes, I can’t help it. Now, do you wanna know what I said, or not?
Hearing loss is a family affair. Its impact reaches beyond the personal to anyone within communicating distance. In my house, even after years together, simple mis-communications can still spark reactions ranging from an irritated laugh to full-on frustration. This is part of our more-or-less accepted family dynamic, and when the bad moment passes, we move on – time after time.
But the family affair has recently become more complicated.
One change involves the 17-year-old son who has already moved beyond our sphere of influence. The little boy who was raised to respect the gift of hearing and understand the consequences of hearing damage now enjoys his music at dangerous levels. There’s not much I can do beyond offering a supply of earplugs, which I can no longer stuff in his ears for him, and reminding (nagging) him that if he continues to abuse his hearing, we’ll be comparing hearing aids at some point in the future.
The other change involves his parents. Up until now, Mommy has been the only one playing in the hearing loss sandbox. But now Daddy may have stuck a toe into the sandbox, too. When it’s noisy, he doesn’t hear me as well as he used to. Recently, at a hearing health fair I was involved with, my husband signed up for a free hearing test. Although the testing environment was less than ideal, his hearing was ‘normal’ until 4000 Hz – and then kaboom, the famous noise damage notch!
The day may have arrived when the (former) Hearing Husband and I must practice two-way communication strategies. I now need to practice what I preach, making sure, for example, that he can see my face in order to understand what I’m saying.
But my husband and I have grown into this situation – I was already hard of hearing when we got married. What about the couples or families who experience hearing loss after years of being together? The emotional impact is often immeasurable. Internet resources such as personal blogs and consumer/professional hearing loss sites offer a great deal of helpful information, but don’t match the effectiveness of learning and practicing good communication strategies with real people.
Clients will be more successful, if hearing care professionals also help their families deal with the emotional barriers of hearing loss, clearing the way to better communication with real-life strategies that work.
The time is ripe to introduce family communication sessions. If a hearing professional in my area cares to offer one, I’ll sign up me and my boys. A good family dynamic is dependent on many things and handling hearing loss is definitely one of them.