"Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive." Anaïs Nin

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Holidays, Children With Hearing Loss and Deafness

Today's guest writer is Allison Schley, author of "Forever Friends". I purchased this book to read with my youngest students. It is a lovely story about a deaf dog who finds a forever home with a deaf boy. I love that the book also incorporates a few signs in into the story.

In this post, Allison addresses the issue of what it is like for hard of hearing and deaf children during the holiday season, what we should be conscious of when communicating, as well as sharing her sincere wish for this holiday season. This post is near and dear to my heart, because this was my experience as a hard of hearing child. I'm so pleased we have people like Allison speaking up on behalf of hard of hearing and deafened children this holiday season.


There are many great blogs out this time of year about how difficult it is to understand at holiday getogethers if you have hearing loss. You often feel put in a corner, left out, confused. You smile, nod, and eat a lot, so that you can avoid direct conversation. 

I want to take a step back and talk about holidays for kids with hearing loss. As I walk through the schools for my day job, the classrooms are buzzing with activities, crafts, books and songs all filled with holiday vocabulary. " That's great!" You might think." The kids with hearing loss will have these vocab words so many times that there is no way they can be confused or delayed." 

Sadly, I am here to tell you you are wrong. Did you know that if you have something as minor as an ear infection or fluid in your ears, you hear as if you are walking with your fingers in your ears. Go ahead, try it. No,really, try it. Now have someone talk to you. You will mishear words. If you are a hearing person, your brain has already mapped the correct way things sound, so your brain either "fixes" what it hears automatically or can put in the right word by context clues. Children with hearing loss don't have this as an option. They have misheard information for years. If they have an ear infection on top of it,then their hearing will be worse.

All of that means that children with hearing loss are learning the names of items wrong. In fact, sometimes, due to background noise, infections, bad lighting, etc, a child might hear the same word in the same 10 minute discussion a few different ways. "Wreath" may sound like "wreath", "wreaf", "eaf" and "eath". This causes the child much confusion and inability to put meaning to a word. If the teacher holds up a wreath and then shows a picture of it, the child will have a better chance. However, he may still be confused as to which is the "right" way to pronounce it. 

That is where the speech pathologists, parents, and I come in. It is our job to pre-teach vocabulary to these children. I am here to ask you to not allow "cute" names for things - let's call things what they are. Candy canes are not "red and white candy" - they are "candy canes." "Ornaments" are not "fancy shiny balls", but rather "ornaments." The child's team needs to work together in introducing and reintroducing vocabulary. Research has shown that children need to hear a word 90 times before it is mapped in their brain. That said, if a child mishears it many times, those times don't count. Did you know that 90 percent of what we learn is through incidental learning? The TV shows, movies, commercials, store ads are all filled with this vocabulary that our hearing children hear. Our children with hearing loss do not have equal access to this information, even through hearing aids or cochlear implants, due to the background noise, it is sound coming from a digital source, etc. 

My holiday wish to you all is if you work with or live with someone with hearing loss, talk away. Sign away. Sign away. Get that vocab pounded in your children's heads so they can participate in the joy and laughter that goes wtih the season!


Allison Schley has been in the field of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education for 20 + years and has been signing since she was 8 years old. Her passion is to help educate the hearing community around hearing loss and also to empower children with hearing loss to be proud of who they are. She recently published her first book called Forever Friends. It is a touching story about a deaf dog who lives in the Humane Society, hoping to find a forever friend. He meets Matt, who is a deaf boy searching for his forever friend. Together, they show the world that all kids are special and deaf IS ok. Find out more at www.2foreverfriends.com and join the discussions at www.facebook.com/2foreverfriends

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