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The New Norm with Hearing Loss

This new norm with hearing loss can and often leads to an identity crisis. Who am I now that I have a hearing loss? What happened to all my skills? Will I ever be the same? How do I find a path back to my level of skills prior to hearing loss? Can I even do that? 

What happens if one person didn’t understand the communication error? A whole cadre of mis-communication can happen very quickly and errors can result in some haunting experiences. These experiences become the new norm. 

Written by Gloria Pelletier: M.S.W., L.C.S.W., L.I.S.A.C

The New Norm with Hearing Loss themed meme:
Picture: Black background with green flames along the left side. The 3 leaf logo of Hearing Loss LIVE! cupped in a flame. A picture of stairs leading up to a light with lots of vegetation on the side walls.
Green text: Rediscovering Who I am with hearing loss. 
@hearinglosslive
Moving Forward

These questions become paramount in rediscovering who I was with hearing loss. The path is NOT back but forward. What are the skills I need to communicate now with hearing loss? How do I find those skills? Am I capable of using those skills? 

All of these questions lead to – “Who am I now?” The obvious answer to most people is – I was the same person as before hearing loss. That isn’t quite true. With hearing loss I lost receptive language, now I needed new techniques to become proficient at conversations again. How do I do that?

Communication is how we project identification of self.

 How does that change the understanding of ourselves? I no longer knew who I was or even how to communicate with others. It becomes a quest for understanding of loss and the effects it has on  communication. A search for new techniques and receptive language. I became so discouraged that I was enmeshed in anxiety and depression. 

A new identity develops during this time period. An identity with hearing loss and all of the consequences of not having receptive language. (The younger the person is when hearing loss occurs; the easier the adjustment. They are still exploring their own identities. Hearing loss is who they are already, it’s incorporated into their identity.)  For those who have already established their identity, it becomes a major life crisis.

The path is not easy. 

Some try on the identity of culturally Deaf, but that doesn’t fit a person who is English based in communication. They can feel ostracized by the very community they are trying to identify with. This identity crisis becomes worse when some individuals try to learn ASL and are unable to achieve proficiency for communication. This effort to fit in is another failure which can cause more confusion.  I tried all of these strategies:

  •  Private tutoring for ASL 
  •  Deaf organizations for assistance but was told they are only for Deaf, not HOH/deaf. 
  • The audiologist – they said they did not get paid for rehabilitation so they were not able to help me. 
  • HOH agency and they did not have programs for teaching me how to live with no receptive language. 
  • Classes for ASL, even graduate level ASL classes did not give me fluency. It should be noted that fluency in a foreign language is almost always achieved in childhood, not adulthood and not with classroom education.
  • Psycho-therapy. I was sent to a specialist for the “Deaf”; not the hard of hearing.  There were many mis-cues due to my mis-understanding vocabulary.  I heard the therapist say I was missing “intrinsic learning”.  For years I thought she was inadequate to the task only to learn I heard it wrong. (She said incidental learning.) I did not check my understanding with the therapist. Of course I THOUGHT I understood. 

I lost years in my struggles to understand with missing sounds.

In the most unlikely place, I found answers.

It was my vocational rehabilitation counselor who began teaching me how to live with hearing loss. It wasn’t an easy transition.  With no structured program it was a struggle to teach me how to communicate effectively.  Three years later with hours of teaching and technology I can now communicate.

Black background green flames along the bottom of the meme. A green hand drawn heart at the top outlined twice. 
Green text: People with hearing loss have big hearts. We want to see each other succeed. Find your people. 
@hearinglosslive

Two years ago, I met Chelle Wyatt, HOH Advocate, in person thanks to a mutual friend. That’s when I learned my confusion was normal. Here was someone who was HOH and had gone through much of what I had to endure. She  learned to thrive with hearing loss. I wanted to thrive so I began the journey to reclaim my identity and my life. Next, I took the Hearing Loss LIVE! lipreading classes. On top of that, I found a therapist who was willing to learn how to communicate with someone who has hearing loss – don’t look away, don’t say hmmmmmmm, correct any miscommunication immediately and stay within 3 feet of me. (See the 3 Golden Rules for more information.)


Re-finding our true selves

Compensation skills can be learned. Communication skills are learned skills, we can learn them! Communication is just one way we identify ourselves. It might be how we are judged by society but it is NOT who we are. I knew my skills were still alive, but I could not find the pathway to connect them from brain to conversation. Receptive and expressive language are directly related. If I can’t understand the conversation, I can not express coherent  ideas. I have knowledge, but no way to connect what I know with what I can’t hear.  

The New Norm

There wasn’t a program for rehabilitation for HOH. There were no agencies to teach me how to communicate again. I found my tribe. Chelle and Julia taught me how to do “workarounds.”  They accepted me as a HOH person and taught me skills to survive.  Jack Clevenger, another HoH advocate, supported me in my clumsy attempts to communicate. (He introduced me to Chelle one day.) A priest and I spent hundreds of hours explaining concepts and strategies for communication.

Black background. Green flames along the bottom. 
Green text: Hearing loss is not who I am. It's how I communicate.
@hearingloss live
3 leaf logo in lower left corner.

My VR counselor helped me find solutions and technology to use to communicate. She fought against the dominant paradigm for  me.  Dr. Ingrid McBride, Audiologist, found solutions to my assistive technology (AT) needs and made sure the accommodations were correct for my hearing loss. She assessed my hearing loss, ordered the right hearing aids and adjusted them so I was immediately successful with them. She and I began teaching skills to HOH.

With the help of an supportive friend, I learned how to be by myself at night with hearing loss. He kept me company the first few nights and helped settle my fears ensuring me I was safe with current technology. (Video calls are great for people with hearing loss.) Chelle, Julia, my vocational rehabilitation counselor, audiologist and friends, I learned to communicate again. With new strategies and technology, I was able to access my knowledge and use it.

Chelle and I just gave a workshop to NASW-AZ, a major achievement for me! I went from no receptive language, depressed, isolated, and no identity to being able to interact with an audience of many people.  

We can be who we  are – sometimes it just takes a village!

You won’t want to miss Hearing Loss LIVE!’s upcoming podcast with Gloria Pelletier. In this podcast, we discuss how it happens and how to proceed through this kind of identity crisis. It comes out April 11th on our YouTube channel and other podcast streaming platforms. It’s available for free for one week, then we mark it private for our Workbook Packages. You can find transcripts on our BuzzSprout site.

One reply on “The New Norm with Hearing Loss”

Great article. Very encouraging. I can see many hours of work ahead but at least I feel optimistic.

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