Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How Would You Encourage a Teenager With Hearing Loss?

Ten years ago I was a college student struggling to hear and take notes in class. Today I returned to my Alma Mater, the University of Tennessee, to speak to graduate students in a Cochlear Implant class. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be a CI recipient OR be speaking in front of a class at a university. A big thank you (again!) goes to Cochlear for making the technology available so others can hear!

My presentation went better than expected and the students were very attentive and had some good questions for me. Which made it easier to share things that I would not have originally presented or thought of. I shared my hearing journey with them, which included discussing some difficult times during my teenage years. One of the questions they asked me was, "How would you encourage a teenager today with a hearing loss who is depressed, isolated, or doesn't want to wear a hearing aid or work with a cochlear implant?" I had to think about that for a minute and said that was a hard one to answer. And have been pondering it ever since.

When I was a teenager in the 60's and 70's, life was hard. Peer pressure reared its ugly head and I felt very isolated. Had very few friends because I talked funny and couldn't hear very well. Was labeled a "snob" many times because I did not respond when my name was called. I felt suicidal at times.  I couldn't talk on the phone and if I wanted to communicate with someone, I had to do it by snail mail or in person. I just wanted someone to listen to me and validate my feelings. And just wanted to have a sense of belonging. Thankfully, I had a wonderful family and support system at home. But not every teenager has that in today's world.

Today, the Internet & technology has made it possible for teenagers to have immediate results and communication skills, something many of us did not have as teenagers. The social media has broken down those barriers of communication and make it possible for the deaf & hard of hearing to connect with the outside world. But instant results when it comes to hearing & understanding with a hearing aid or cochlear implant is a different story. The results are not always immediate and take time.  Working with a hearing aid or cochlear implant is like any other tool and have a learning curve associated with them. Practice and patience is the key to success.

I feel that increased independence leads to a richer life with a purpose. Many of us CI recipients can attest to that. I would encourage parents, audiologists, & medical professionals to learn how to encourage them in a positive way.  They need to know that they are special just the way they are and have a purpose in life. Listen to them, love them, embrace them, & plant seeds of hope so that they can make a difference in their world and for those around them. And pray for them, too. When you do that for them, you give them the power & courage to live a confident, healthy, & positive life.

How would you answer the question? Looking forward to hearing your answers!