Holidays are full of hustle and bustle, tradition, travel , noise and family .For most of us, it has a bit of stress added in. For children and adults with hearing loss, there can also be extra stress and loneliness.
At first thought, you might find this odd..this is the BEST time of the year, right? Well, try to imagine yourself from their point of view. If a child or adult only signs and the family and friends with whom they get together with during the holidays do not sign, this makes communicating very hard. Perhaps some people have taken time or interest and know some basic greetings..but after that, people often talk quickly and move on. If a child or adult uses listening and spoken language, it is not necessarily much easier. People speak fast, there is background noise, people are moving all over while talking, which distorts their voice and makes it very hard for someone to speech read. Often, children and adults with hearing loss became extremely lonely and feel left out.
There is hope. Plan ahead. If you are inviting people with hearing loss to your home, have paper and pencil or technology available to make communication flow easier. If you are a parent or spouse of someone with hearing loss going to someone's home, bring some communication options along. Set up seating in a semi circle, so people can all see each other. Remind people to get the person with hearing loss' attention first, before speaking or signing.
This may not make the communication perfect, but it will allow that person to feel intentionally included. This helps that person want to advocate more and some of the loneliness can disappear.
Another great idea is to buy some movies or books for the child with hearing loss that have characters in them who have hearing loss, so they can relate. It is also a great idea to get them for the families who don't have hearing loss, so they can start to learn about hearing loss.
I get this question often, 'Is ASL universal?'. Ummm, no.. First off, it means AMERICAN sign language. Second of all, does the world speak English? Sure, most Europeans learn it as a second language, but it is not their main language. Why is that, you might ask? The answer is simple=culture.
Culture plays a huge part in our language and how it evolves. Do you know that in some cultures, it is disrespectful NOT to look an elder in the eyes, yet in another culture, it is disrespectful if you DO look an elder in the eye. Did you know that Eskimos have such levels of cold that there are 50 spoken words in their language that describe snow alone!
Transfer that over to signed language. Motion, dialect, gestures, facial expression, eye contact all play a role in these visual languages. So, no , there is not a universal sign language.
When I went to Europe, I met 3 different groups of people who were signing and talked to 2 of the groups. It was comical,about as comical as me trying to speak English to someone in Slovakia who didn't know English. We tried, pointed and smiled alot. The first group I met was from Italy. How did I know-they drew the shape of the country in the air and then , yup, wrote ITALY on a paper;) Interestingly, they knew the sign for America that is in ASL-not sure if it is the same in Italian signs. They were thrilled to have me come over and chat and we muddled through with pen, paper and gestures. Later, I met a couple in Iceland. They knew English, so they could read my lips and half gestured and half spoke to converse with me. The last group I saw in the Iceland airport. It was crazy busy at the ticket counter and I was beyond exhausted, so I didn't converse. It was magical to me, though, to see signing all over Europe. It was frustrating, and mildly brain confusing, to not be able to understand it. It is such a given to me that when I see someone signing, I can understand.
My daughter is constantly pushing her brain to learn new spoken language.. I am going to look into seeing if I can find apps or something to try to learn some foreign sign languages... Keep ya posted!
Hearing loss doesn't have to be a lonely thing.
Hearing loss can be isolating for children. It is often called the invisible disabilities, as children with hearing loss often don't have any physical needs other than not being able to hear. Children in school are often told they are lazy,if they don't follow all of a teacher's directions. Children may be teased, if they answer a question wrong in class or mispronounce something. Children are not always believed ,when they tell someone that they can't hear well.
These negative responses from others often lead children with hearing loss to have low self esteem. Children start to believe the negative images that are being portrayed of them. They start doubting that they can be successful. They start feeling isolated. Children with hearing loss often believe they are not smart,because they are doing work wrong or get in trouble in school.
I wanted to change that. I have been in the field of Deaf Education for over 25 years. I try daily to make a positive impact on my students, but I wanted to make a bigger difference. I started the Forever Friends' series for two reasons. I believe children with hearing loss need to see more characters with hearing loss in books. They can relate to these characters, understand the issues the characters are going through, and also celebrate the characters' successes. In this way, my hope is that children with hearing loss will see that they CAN do anything they want to do in life. my second reason for creating these books is to show hearing children that children with hearing loss CAN be successful. When hearing children learn a bit about deafness and hearing loss, they will be more understanding and more open to learning even more. They will start to see children with hearing loss just as children-who love to do same things that children with hearing like to do.
I truly hope you enjoy my weekly blog and my books. Please subscribe so you don't miss any of the blogs. Feel free to message me via the contact page, as well. I look forward to being your Forever Friend.
Allison Schley is a teacher of deaf and hard of hearing children. She took her passion for kids with hearing loss and became an author. She wants all children with hearing loss to know they are amazing and that hearing loss will not keep them from following their dreams.