“Mo goo! Mo goo, Gigi, mo goo!”
Ava, my 16-month-old granddaughter, clearly wanted “mo goo” from Gigi (Grandma Gael = GG = Gigi) ). There was no parental translation help nearby so I kept taking stabs at what Mo Goo might mean. My usual assumption was that I couldn’t understand her because of my hearing loss, but it seemed that I could hear it, but not understand it. She was sitting expectantly in front of the TV set, and when I tried saying ‘mo goo’ to myself, it hit me.
“You want to see Mother Goose, Ava?”
“Yup. Mo Goo!”
If only if it were always so easy. Small children aren’t usually capable of the clear communication that people with hearing loss require.
They can’t sustain the necessary eye contact.
They often squirm as they talk.
They don’t like being asked to repeat something, because they think they’ve done something wrong, or the discussion has lost interest for them.
From our side of the conversation, we may not be familiar with the speech patterns of other people’s children. Once we’ve spent a little time together and they like us enough to talk to us, let alone look at us, we will probably break the code of their speech habits.
But for some reason, I keep asking small children what their names are. It’s a good icebreaker, and perhaps I’ll do better at deciphering single words than full sentences. The following passage is from my book, The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss:
If a little girl mistakenly responds to my name question with a variation on her age, “I’m tree ears old”, I’m likely to say, “Well, that’s a nice name.” Unlike most small children who are shy, with as-yet-undeveloped articulation skills, my son Joel had a voice like a small foghorn and if you asked my three-year-old his name, he would look you in the eye and say, clearly, “My name is Joel Kennedy Hannan.” If he had been shy by nature, life would have been different for both of us. Joel liked to be understood, slowing himself down when his mouth got ahead of his brain. “Mommy, what I mean to say…is…” (His brain and mouth eventually hit the same speed, and any parent of a teenage boy will empathize.)
I lucked out with this kid. However, Joel’s friends were always a little nervous around me as I probably frowned at them the way I normally do when I’m concentrating hard on hearing well – and I was always asking them to repeat themselves. Or take their hands away from their mouths. Or swallow their food before talking. Or face me. Six-year-olds don’t like doing all that with anybody who is not their teacher or parents. Fifteen-year-olds don’t either.
And now there are grandchildren and friends’ grandchildren. How do I understand them? I can get down to their level and smile and say something to the effect of, “I don’t hear very well. My ears don’t work as well as yours. Can you tell me again what you just said?” And then pray that they do. Because by the time their mom or dad chimes in to get them to face me or speak louder, the last thing on earth that this kid wants to do is speak to me.
One improvement – for me anyway – is that with my cochlear implant, I hear the higher frequency “ch” and soft “g” sounds so much better. I can hear “Gigi” from another room! It’s just the words that follow which aren’t so easy. But if they have called me, it’s likely they want something from me which means they’re likely to look at me.
So in response to this article’s title – How to Hear Those High Kiddie Voices – my best advice is simply as well as you can. All the same rules apply that we use with adults: they need to get your attention, face you when speaking, speak as clearly as possible, speak up if necessary, and repeat themselves upon request. Wear your hearing technology but keep it away from babies such as 7-month-old Grayson who though it looked like a neat new chew toy.
Talking with kids is fun, especially if you understand them. So – good luck!