Well, the BEST gift is probably diamonds! But if you want to give a gift that will be treasured every day for the rest of their life, banish the words “never mind” from your vocabulary–especially if you have a friend or loved one that has hearing loss. Imagine this simple conversation between a person with normal hearing and a person that is hearing impaired:
“It’s cold outside.”
When the hearing person says, “Never mind” they are thinking, “Oh it’s just small talk. It’s not important.” But what the hearing impaired person hears is, “YOU are not important. You are not worth my time in repeating what I said.”
Really think about this for a second–how much of what is said on a daily basis really IS important? Small talk pretty much makes up the majority of conversations. None of them are really important. In fact, we likely forget the majority of what we hear within a few hours of hearing it. I bet you’re thinking about that now, too. Go ahead–what was the conversation you had with someone four hours ago? Do you remember? What did you talk about yesterday? Shoot, I can’t even remember what I was wearing yesterday.
What small talk does, though, is gives us a connection to others. It gives us meaning. It says, “I like you. I want to share a moment with you. You matter to me.” So, when you take it back by saying “never mind” you are saying just the opposite. Those words are extremely hurtful to those with hearing loss. You have to realize that people with hearing aids typically have to concentrate very hard on what you are saying. They likely have to read your lips, read your facial cues and study the tone of your voice. It takes a lot of effort on their part to understand you. What effort are you making?
The best gift that you can give is to make an effort. Speak slowly. Speak loudly if that’s what your loved one needs. Yes, it’s embarrassing to talk loudly in public. Yes, people will hear what you are saying. Do it anyway. Don’t talk while you’re chewing. Don’t cover your mouth when you’re speaking. Look at them. Make the effort.
Let your loved one speak for themselves when talking to others, too. I am a mentor. One of the things I do is meet with people that are thinking about getting cochlear implants or with people that may be having problems with theirs.
I meet with their loved ones, too, sometimes. It is not unusual for me to look directly at the person with hearing loss and ask them a question only to have their loved one answer. I quickly let them know that I am not talking to them and that I’d like the person with the hearing loss to answer me. Sometimes they are taken aback because they are used to answering for them. Yes, it’s easier that way. But it devalues the person with the hearing loss.
I spoke to an elderly man once and he didn’t understand me. So his wife tried to answer again. I didn’t let her. Instead, I took his iPad and opened the notebook app and spoke into it. My words appeared on the screen and he read them. He then answered me–in HIS words. He was having a problem with his CI and I needed to know what he was hearing. I also needed him to know my recommendations. But more importantly than that, I needed him to know that what he was going through mattered. It was important to me and to him. It WAS worth my time to communicate with him and to listen to what he had to say. We had a whole conversation after that. His wife was amazed. She hadn’t seen him talk like that in awhile. But I made an effort and so did he.
It’s much easier to talk around the person with hearing loss when we are in a group setting. And so they just sit there–excluded. If they have hearing aids, and aren’t participating, they likely can’t follow the conversation. Bring some pictures to share with them. Use your notepad app to let them know what the conversation is about. Have you heard a funny joke lately? Write it down and show it to them. You don’t have to include them in every conversation. That gets exhausting and frustrating for all of you. But let them know that they matter. When you are alone with them again, let them know what the conversations were about. Take the time and whatever you do, don’t say “never mind”!
If your loved one has recently gotten a cochlear implant, don’t put undue expectations on them. Chances are, they are hearing some pretty strange things in the beginning. They will not all of a sudden be able to understand you without reading your lips. That might not happen for many months, if ever, depending on their situation.
Help them to appreciate the small things to take less pressure off of the big things that might still be frustrating. Did they hear the elevator bell ding? Did they hear the turn signal on the car? Did they hear the chirp of the car being unlocked? Did they hear birds? Did they hear the leaves crunching under their feet? These are insignificant things to people that can hear but they are amazing things that are all new to the person with a new CI. Celebrate those victories!
Help them out with rehab, too. A fun game you can play when you are driving or walking around outside is the “sign game”. Read a word that you both can see (without looking at them–no lipreading!) and have them repeat it back to you. It will give them confidence. Ask them if there are words that they are having trouble understanding–maybe words beginning with R or L, for example. Then think up words with those letters and see if they can understand them.
Living with hearing loss, quite frankly . . . sucks! It’s a lot of hard work. It takes a lot of effort on both the hearing person and the hard of hearing person’s behalf. But if you make that effort, you are making a connection. You are giving validation. You are saying, “You’re worth it to me.” That’s really the best gift you can give to anyone.