I recently attended the annual national convention of the Hearing Loss Association of America because it was actually held in my area this year. At one point, I was in the crowded convention hall perusing the numerous hearing loss vendors and booths. At a distance, I saw an old acquaintance scoot by in their scooter. I tried to wave them down but I was not in their peripheral so they did not see me. After they quickly rolled out of my sight, it hit me! I could have raised my voice and said, “Hey Bob!” This friend did not have a hearing loss, but attended these conventions alongside of his wife who WAS deaf and hearing again with two cochlear implants. I had to smile at my mistake, because I forget that people with normal hearing do not have to have a visual cue in order to get their attention. (Thankfully we ran into each other later…)
I see this all the time in my kids. Kyersten and Chris (now 21 and 20-years-old) attend college but live at home. They really have no memories of my not having a hearing loss. Even though I had a progressive loss, it took twelve years before my hearing was completely gone. They have both told me that they don’t remember my ever hearing well. They are so accustomed to speaking with someone who has a hearing loss, they automatically do things that are more difficult for someone who isn’t in constant contact with someone who is deaf. They always come into the same room that I am in, and rarely try to have a conversation from another room with ANY family member… even those with normal hearing. Recently my son came all the way into the family room to ask my husband a question. It was a simple question that could have easily been asked from the kitchen. The television wasn’t on, and the area was fairly quiet. However, he is so accustomed to facing the person he is talking to, it is difficult to remember that he can do some communicating from another room when it comes to his dad. My daughter is often told that even as shy as she is, she has “uncanny eye contact” when communicating with someone.
Teaching Them Early
When my kids were about 2-3 years old, they were already “old hats” at communicating with a person who had hearing loss. They cannot remember watching television without captions. Even “Barney, the Dinosaur” had captions, as did “Sesame Street” and “Thomas the Tank Engine”. I believe it helped them learn to read as early as they did!
If I needed to tell my kids something, I would walk over to them and get down on their level. I would put my hands on each side of their face and say, “I’ve got my GUESS WHAT FACE ON!” I’d then (almost nose to nose) tell them what I wanted to tell them, or simply say “I love you”.
If they came to talk to me, I could hear that they were talking, but not understand what they were saying. So I’d lean down and put my palms on each side of their face and ask, “Wow! Do you have your GUESS WHAT FACE ON?” It didn’t take long for them to begin putting their own palms on the sides of my face when talking to me. As they grew older, we dropped putting our hands on the face of the other, but they would come and tell me with direct eye contact… “Mom, I’ve got my GUESS WHAT FACE ON…” and then tell me what they were going to say.
By the time my kids were 5 and 6-years-old, it had become habit. I was eventually able to afford a refurbished hearing aid that gave me some help in hearing for several years. I recall my daughter (from the next room) telling my son, “Wait a minute. Let me put my GUESS WHAT FACE ON and ask Mom!” As they continued to age and mature, what “stuck” was direct eye contact and face-to-face conversations. It was actually a wonderful gift to help nurture in them, for all of us do very well to give the other person the attention they need and deserve when communicating. No competing with electronic games, closed captioning on television, or computers when we talk. We put everything down and LOOK at the other person.
How to Get a Deaf Person’s Attention
Here are some great tips in how to get the attention of a person with hearing loss.
1. Wave your hand in their line of sight.
2. Touch their shoulder or hand before speaking.
3. Move into their line of sight with your body to gain their attention.
4. Turn the lights off and on (this is especially helpful in a room that may have more than one person with hearing loss and you need EVERY person’s attention).
5. If sitting at a table with the person, gently knock on the top to get their attention through vibrations.
Can you think of any others? I welcome your input!
How Service Dogs Get Attention
Hearing assistance dogs are taught to get their partner’s attention by gently bumping them with their nose or touching them with a paw. As I have a balance disorder, Chloe tries to garner my attention by standing and staring and WAGGING LIKE MAD. She only places a paw on me or bumps me with her nose if her 1st efforts have failed. Smaller assistance dogs, may get their partner’s attention by actually jumping up on them.
Even though hearing assistance dogs are trained how to get the attention of their partner to alert them to sounds, the human partner has to be responsible as well. Shortly after being matched with Chloe my trainer, Pat, took me to many different types of public places to train ME. Chloe was already trained. She drilled into me, two important things:
1. WATCH YOUR DOG
2. TRUST YOUR DOG
I quickly learned to pay attention to what has Chloe’s attention. Her hearing is not only much keener than my own, it is more sensitive than people with normal hearing. I can now even recognize when she hears something if she is standing in front of me (with my only seeing the back of her head). Chloe has a modified “heel”. “Heel” position is when the dog’s shoulders are parallel to their partner’s left leg. However, I do not have peripheral vision on my lower left. So we taught Chloe a modified “heel” that is slightly forward of a true “heel”. I had to learn how to observe the BACK of her head. Thankfully she has these wonderful hound ears that perk up and she “points with her nose” in the direction from which a sound is coming. She will even cock her head to the side to really tune in.
If the sound is something she thinks I should hear, she’ll come and get me – phone ringing, door bell, someone calling my name, kitchen timer, etc. These are all trained alerts. However, I have been in situations where I could tell a sound had completely distracted her yet I could not hear or place what it was. When this happens, I ask “Chloe… what is it? Show me!”
Chloe will start to wag and TAKE me to what is making the sound. I have to be careful about this. I don’t want her to take me to every single sound she hears. She may hear the kid’s arguing and cock her head as she listens. I do NOT want her to take me to where they are arguing because they are old enough to work out their own problems! She seems to understand when it is a sound that I need to pay attention to – such as a cat locked in the laundry room, the low-battery sound on the phone in the bottom of my purse, or “Daddy” hollering from the bathroom because there isn’t any toilet paper!
A Word of Caution
I believe that individual’s with hearing loss should get the attention of every person they wish to speak to – even if that person has normal hearing. Do you know how many conversations I have interrupted because I walked up to someone and started talking without hearing that they were talking to someone else? I try to make it a habit (and still sometimes fail) to make sure I have the attention of someone before I begin speaking. This eliminates the likelihood of my talking over someone already talking.
I suspect all of us can improve our communication skills. If you have someone in your life who has a hearing loss, I encourage you to sit them down and ask them in what ways you may better communicate with them. If you have a hearing loss (whether a veteran of deafness or a “rookie” – new to coping with hearing loss), try to sit folks down and have a “heart to heart” about ways they might better communicate with you. This may include family members, co-workers, or even supervisors. Don’t think, however, that once you share with them how to better communicate with you that they will always do “right” from that point forward. I have learned that the people in my life need occasional (positive) reminders.
“Could you put your hand down please? You are covering your mouth”.
“Do you mind looking my direction when you speak?”
“Could you get my attention before you begin speaking? I’m afraid I missed all that you said prior to my looking up and seeing you standing there!”
Stay positive. Few people will put any genuine effort into communicating with you if you belly-ache and whine about it. If you get angry, it may cause resentment and defensiveness. Keep your cool! Smile… be positive! In the end, you are actually helping them better communicate with ALL!
© 2011 Personal Hearing Loss Journal