The Age of Teendom and Being Deaf Too

A woman recently posted a question in a group that I follow on Facebook; “How to get her teen son to wear both his processors?” The problem she explained, was that he did not like one of them. Moreover, when he did not wear it, his speech declined, his auditory comprehension declined and consequently his family became frustrated with communicating with him. Naturally there was a flurry of advice, the common ones were: that he needed remapping and a checkup on that processor, and that he had to keep wearing it to stimulate the hearing in that ear. My response was that a checkup with the audiologist, and remapping of the processor. However, he has already developed a negative attitude towards it, and even with going for an appointment, he may not resume wearing it.

This post brought to mind when I wanted to stop my speech therapy and I relayed that experience in one of my replies. I had been doing it for twelve years, and had just turned fifteen. The final sounds I was working on were the s,sh,ch sounds, as they were difficult to hear, and thus pronounce. At the time I had also just gotten braces, and had spaces between my teeth which affected my speech. I begged and pleaded to stop, saying I had enough, that I had done as well as I could, and that when my braces were off, my final speech sounds would then be mastered. Boy, did I have to work for permission to quit, and I certainly had to prove that I was serious about maintaining the quality of my speech. I also at the same time, begged and pleaded to stop using the FM system, because I was embarrassed by it, and my vanity came into play. Who would want to date a girl wearing a bulky FM system at her waist. Again, I also had to make serious promises to maintain my grades to my parents. The end result was, I promised that if my speech declined, or my grades slipped (I was an A student), I would resume speech therapy and the use of the FM system.

My parents believed that I had to hold myself accountable for any decisions I made regarding my hearing. The onus was on me from a young age to ask for help from my teachers, to bring a charged FM mic and receiver (and use it), and to practice my speech therapy assignments. My personality is such that I was inclined to do my best and excel, so I did everything I needed to do at school, and at home. I was expected to speak up when I missed something, when my ear molds needed replacing, when I had a problem with my hearing aids. My parents were not experiencing what I was on a daily basis, so they wouldn’t know when I needed new cords or batteries, unless I spoke up.

As I got older, I started handling my appointments with my audiologist alone, and worked with her on what hearing aids to try, that best fit my needs for school and for work. In fact, I was the first to try many of the new models that came out, and in essence I was the guinea pig for my audiologist. The ability to handle these appointments gave me the foundation needed to handle whatever I needed to as an adult, when it came to my hearing.

Now that I am a parent, and soon to a teenager, I appreciate that my parents placed those expectations and responsibilities on me. I give my children those same responsibilities and expectations. My main response to the post, was that at his age, it was time for him to start advocating for himself at his appointments, to take responsibility for his hearing needs, and equipment. I further said that he would soon have to pay for that maintenance, and upgrades, and if he did not know how to advocate for himself, it would only lead to frustration, and possibly further declination of his skills and increase resistance to using either processor. Moreover, I suggested, not upgrading the hated processor, unless he promised to resume using it, and taking responsibility. I know that sounds mean, and possibly contradictory, but as parents, the onus is on us to teach fiscal responsibility. With the needs we have as deaf adults, we cannot be left to handle things without the knowledge of how to maintain those needs, and the resulting costs.

However, in order to become good advocates for ourselves as a teen, we also had to overcome all the lovely social issues that come with being a teenager. Self image, self confidence, navigating relationships with your parents, and of course the joys of dating and friendships. All of those things are hard enough to deal with as a normal, healthy teenager, let alone as a deaf teenager wearing clunky, big, visible hearing aids or processors. Nothing is easy in life, and the hardest lesson to learn is that life is what we make of it. To succeed in school, sports, friendships and even dating, one must put the work and effort into it.

I cheered in school for three years, and was quite good at it. I found ways to learn the moves and cheers and my teammates all worked to help me learn it all. I made friends easily, and they did what they could to help me. Did I date? Yes, I did. Not a lot, but I had a few boyfriends, and like any girl, crushed and lamented when I did not have a boyfriend. In the end however, 26 years later, many of those boys I crushed on, or dated, became life long friends. I have many friends that I am still in touch with, and support and cheer on after all these years. They are in return, still cheering me on in this journey I am on right now, just as they did in high school.

The hardest thing was to not let my deafness get in the way of my life, and what I wanted. It was not easy to learn how to overcome my self consciousness, or keep believing in myself and as an adult, I still work on that. Like anyone else, I had to learn, and try my best. That is all anyone really can do, try their best. In essence, the biggest thing we as teens learn to do, is how to communicate with others, learn to advocate for ourselves, and learn that when we put the effort in, we are rewarded; with good grades, good friendships, a place on the basketball team, on the dance committee, or on the school council. As for dating, it just takes a leap of faith, and believing that you’re just as worthy of being someone’s girlfriend or boyfriend and that your deafness doesn’t matter. We are the same as anyone else, and our deafness is just what makes us unique.

This woman appreciated what I had to say, and commented that I was a big help in figuring out how to approach her son. She had given him the tools, and resources, but she knows, ultimately he
has to step up and take responsibility. He is a normal teenager, who just has the added weight of a disability. I hope he, or other teenagers find this blog, and read what I write, because I want all deaf teens out there to know: your parents have your best interests at heart, and their platitudes, aren’t being said to placate you. They really do know what they are talking about, because they were teens once too. No one knows what we experience as deaf people, not even our parents, but we can take and learn from them, and develop the tools and skills to succeed in whatever we choose to do in our lives.

Life is what we make of it, no matter what age we are. As a parent, I hope that I can raise my children to be confident, assured, responsible and caring adults, that is, if I can make it through the impending teen years.

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