As a kid, I loved going to the pool or the beach. I remember having a blast at water parks. Hearing aids are not water proof, so each time I went the hearing aids stayed at home or locked up some place dry.
My hearing for my childhood was mild/moderate. So I heard less without my hearing aids on, but I was still able to communicate in spoken English.
As an adult, however, things have changed. I feel hesitant going to the pool or the beach with my son and I struggle to communicate in spoken words at these locations more than I remembered. I chalked it up to the loss of innocence and being more aware of things. The addition of wearing glasses and not always wearing my contacts helped.
A few weeks ago a light bulb flashed over my head. I suddenly realized why I no longer enjoyed water like I used to. While my left ear still has a mild hearing loss, my right ear is now moderate to profound. Without my hearing aid on I don’t hear spoken English unless it’s really loud. Even then the sound is off, consonants missing. I listen with my left ear and, in many ways, always have.
So the reason I don’t enjoy the beach and pool like I used to is because my hearing is different. My good ear remains the same, but the change in my bad ear is enough to force me to struggle. My family and friends understand, but a stranger? Forget it. And even though I’m comfortable with my hearing loss, it doesn’t also flow in a conversation.
I know ASL, but at home I speak most of the time. I’ve known my husband since before I knew ASL, so it’s natural for us to communicate in English. He took a few ASL classes for me, and we’ve tried to implement SimCom (simultaneous communication in both languages) at home. But English is the language I use on instinct and since I understand him most of the time, our attempts slid away.
When my son was born I was determined to make him bilingual. First problem: my son is hearing. I have a tendency to sign to those who need it, not just because. But I tried with him. Second problem: he doesn’t hold eye contact well. It’s hard to sign to someone who isn’t paying attention. To be fair, he did pick up some ASL. He counts in ASL, he knows the alphabet, and he signed a few words before his English picked up. He’ll sign “please” to butter me up with an angelic face. So even though I had the best intentions, I stopped signing.
The only person I can blame is myself. A social worker by nature, I put others communication needs before mine. I match my communication style to those I talk with. I don’t put what I need first. And because I don’t put my own needs first, because I fall back on what is easy and simple, I can’t go to the beach and switch to ASL with my family.
I’m trying to change my ways, force my hands to move more at home, expose my son to signs again and hope my family will follow suit. I haven’t mentioned this to my husband yet, so I hope he a) will see what I’m doing and b) read this and understand where I’m coming from.
English is my native language. I’m comfortable communicating in spoken language. But it comes with its own trial and tribulations. I’ve spent my life dependent on my left ear. In the back of my mind, I’ve had a little voice whispering, “What happens when it changes?” My hearing loss is stable, everything that has happened to my right ear stems back to surgery and blows to the head (I’ve fainted a few times, I don’t recommend it). Yet older adults can have late onset hearing loss and I suspect I’m not immune, even if I’m already used to it.
Instead of being frustrated and not enjoying the times when my hearing aids are off, I need to make changes. I need to sign more often. I need to push past the ease of English, when I like to talk a mile a minute, and slow down enough so my hands can follow. Above all, I need to put my communication needs first. It won’t be easy, I’m sure there will be ups and downs until new habits are formed. But if I don’t make those changes I’ll continue to find myself in situations where my hearing loss frustrates me. And as an ASL user this shouldn’t happen.