By Irene Schmalz
Deaf history month is rich with examples of successful people with hearing loss – my favorite being Helen Keller. History reflects the ongoing process that families’ experience with their own children with hearing losses.
Each family’s contribution to deaf history begins when parents are told at their child’s birth that the hearing screening results indicated a “no pass.” Every journey is unique – no child fits squarely in the hole. It is impossible to compare families who have children with hearing loss to one another. There are so many variables for each situation. Some of the variables can include: will your child be wearing a device(s), what services will be included with or without the device(s), are there children in your neighborhood who have a hearing loss, are there mentors who can share their experiences, are family members going to accept their child’s hearing loss, and how will one communicate with their child?
After a child is diagnosed with a hearing loss – there are many ways to use language and communicate with your child. There is not one specific way that works. Presently and historically there are disagreements about which methods or options work best for the child with hearing loss. Parents can make informed decisions by doing their research and talking with other parents who have a child with a hearing loss. I believe that parents who practice and use their communication choices with their child will experience positive outcomes.
It is important to note that hearing loss either remains stable or changes with time. A device may help with hearing or no device might be the preference. Language skills may or may not improve over time. Socialization with others may increase or decrease as the child gets older. Self-esteem may vary over the years, confidence ebbs and flows.
Living with hearing loss has its ups and downs, I know this because my own history reflects it. However, there is one significant factor that will remain the same regardless of any advanced devices or communication methods chosen for your child – the need to keep the conversation open. The need to understand that despite all of the training (devices or no devices) – it is not always easy for children or adults with a hearing loss. This isn’t like eyeglasses, you put them on and everything is clear. Hearing loss is in a category all its own. There are societal biases. There can be setbacks. However, families can create their own success stories many times over as they shape their future and make their own history. Hard work, acceptance, and choosing a communication system that works best for your child and for your family are the most important tools.
Irene Schmalz is the Deaf/Hard of Hearing Liaison at the Center for Family Involvement. She lives in Northern Virginia. She is pictured here with her husband and grandchildren. The drawing used as this article’s feature image is by her granddaughter Reagan.