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Step Back, Take a Deep Breath: Your Child and Hearing Social Settings

By Lindsay Hutton

Step Back, Take a Deep Breath: Your Child and Hearing Social Settings

It’s that time of year again. The kids are back in school, bringing along dozens of play dates, birthday parties, video game marathons and sleepovers. Likely one of the biggest worries the parents of children who are deaf/HH surround issues of social inclusion. Will my child fit in? Will they feel isolated? Will they be picked on? Or closer to the point, how do I best prepare them to go out into social circles designed for and by hearing people?

“I remember my first sleepover perfectly,” says Sara, a 21-year-old student at the University of Guelph, born profoundly deaf. “I’d never stayed away from home before, so my parents were a little… freaky. They went over to the place I was staying at and talked to the parents, they had a sit-down with me before I went, we went over how to change the batteries on my aids (though I’d been doing that forever), they must have called three or four times as soon as I got there…”.

First things first, every child is different. Each child may require different strategies depending on their age, personality and capabilities. But here are a few tips to keep your wits about you during your little one’s social outings.

You’re Okay, They’re Okay

It’s entirely normal to feel a little worried about your child fitting in within hearing social situations. However, many studies suggest that the cornerstone of creating a healthful point for your kid to healthfully engage is to keep calm and even-keeled in doing so. Deaf/HH kids are extraordinarily sensitive; it’s easy for your child to second-guess his or herself if their caregivers are consistently in a tizzy. Therefore, having questions and concerns is totally okay, but try to keep them in perspective.

Know Your Support System

Websites, advocacy groups and parents organizations abound, many with one sole purpose: to support deaf/HH children AND their families. Many use a “buddy system,” offering direct lines of communication with other parents, often via online message boards or other informal grouping opportunities. Ask your pediatrician or audiologist for some places to start. “If there is one thing I keep telling parents, [it’s that] we’ve all been there. Use the networks around you for support,” says Norah-Lynn McIntyre, the executive director for VOICE for Hearing Impaired Children.

Let Them Do The Talking

Most recent study on the socialization of deaf/HH children focuses on the importance of facilitating accepting environments for your child. Part of that should entail that your child feels comfortable fielding questions about their hearing loss from curious peers outside of the usual settings.

Sometimes a little role-playing in a safe space can be a good start, but make sure your child does the talking. “Darcy was a little uncomfortable to go to other people’s houses for parties to start,” says Marie-Therese of Montreal, of her eight-year-old daughter who uses aids and an FM system. “So we started by having kids over as often as we could. So she could at least feel comfortable in social situations outside of school. After a few times she figured she could handle it at home, she could handle it anywhere.”

Keep Behind the Scenes

As your child gets older, play dates and parties are likely to become more frequent. Not allowing your child to interact on their own doesn’t only ruin the fun, but can lessen your child’s ability to create a self-reliant social skill base. Learn to keep some distance.

“I think when they’re young, observing now and then is okay and normal,” says Scott from Victoria, whose daughter Kate was born with profound hearing loss. “But I had to learn to step back. It was making me a little nuts, and it was driving Kate nuts to have her dad peeping over her shoulder.”

Throughout your journey as a parent, it’s normal to throw your hands up in the air and wonder where the cards may fall with your child’s success, well being and happiness. In the words of Sara, a bright, successful 21-year-old who survived the ins and outs of profound hearing loss: “Looking back, I think it’s important for parents to know that at the end of the day, we have to figure out a lot of the social stuff for ourselves. All we really want is to know our parents care and are there to help when we need them, right?” Right.