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Maintaining Identity - Your Non-HH Child

By Lindsay Hutton

Maintaining Identity - Your Non-HH Child

Every family is different, with each carrying its own measures of successes and challenges. With a child with hearing loss, however, there can be a different set of hurdles to navigate every day. It’s easy (and often necessary) to direct a disproportionate amount of energy and support toward your deaf/HH child, and miss some cues from other children in the family.

“I admit it, I’m not perfect,” laughs Lana R. of Mississauga, ON, a mother of three (the youngest, Sasha, being born with profound hearing loss). “During the first four years of Sasha’s life, I definitely spent a disproportionate amount of time dealing with her… the other kids were great about it, but it was apparent, I needed to rethink a few things about the other kids needing some support, too.”

Fewer things settle less painfully than the possibility of tagging oneself as a “bad parent.” According to many studies, there is a tendency for parents to spend more time and resources with a child with a disability. Despite this, solutions, resources and supports are at the ready to address some of the difficulties that may arise. Every family is different, but there can be some definable themes that may crop up now and then.

Maintaining Identity

No matter if your non-HH child is older or younger than your child with hearing loss, many parents find the hearing sibling(s) can find themselves in the role of caretaker of their HH sibling. “Sarah is two years younger than Hannah (the HH child), and no one could communicate better with her… often it was Sarah that was ‘speaking’ and ‘hearing’ for her as they got older,” says Dan T., a parent in Guelph, ON. “We figured that was natural and very kind of her, but at the same time, we wanted to make sure Hannah saw herself as someone outside of Sarah’s mouth and ears.”

Despite disability, it’s a natural instinct for children to “look after” each other. However, many parents have found success in aiding the happy budding of their non-HH child’s identity with a little something extra now and then. “At least every couple of weeks when the girls were small, [either] my wife or I would spend a few hours just with Sarah outside of the home, sometimes with one of her friends,” offers Dan. “Even if that meant just going for ice cream or to the library, we made it known that those couple of hours were all about her. As she got older, we sourced out her interests and focused the ‘Sarah Time’ a little more.”

Giving Space

Families with a child with a disability often rely on everyone to offer a little extra help, and it’s important for everyone, parents and children alike, to keep some time for themselves. As such, respect your hearing child’s need to break away from the family and have some “me-time,” and make it known you are aware of their need for it.

“There were a lot of times when I would need the kids’ help, and because often Sasha did things a little slower, or couldn’t necessarily hear me when I would call out, the other two kids often had to do a little extra,” admits Lana. “Especially as they got into their teens, I realized pretty fast they needed their space… I had to learn to just let them do their own thing, to get away from some of the ‘noise,’ you know?”

No matter what the composition of a family, different strategies at different stages may be required. A common sentiment in discussion with many parents of HH children can be summed up by Jenn, a Calgary-based mother of two children, one with significant hearing loss: “Keep yourself sane, keep lines of communication open, celebrate as much as possible, and know when and how to get support when you need it.”

*Need some extra help? There’s lots of resources across the country. For local support, talk to your audiologist or ENT doctor for a referral. Otherwise, take a look at VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children – this organization offer a host of resources for your child with hearing loss, but a parent support program as well.