5 tips for living with deafness in a hearing family

Moving back home during the first lockdown of 2020 saw our writer, Tamara facing many new challenges as she readjusted to living 24/7 with her hearing family. In this article she explains the steps she took to make sure her needs were met while readapting to her family’s hearing world.

Deaf in Hearing Family

As the only one in my family (and most of my friends) with a hearing loss, I can confidently say one of the biggest challenges is day to day communication in the family home. This environment is where everyone is at their most relaxed with fewer inhibitions, and so simple things like remembering to speak to me clearly – face to face without mumbling – can go out the window. The home is also a hub of group conversation, and anyone with a hearing loss knows how exhausting it is trying to keep up with lively group chatter.

Having lived quite independently in London for several years, I had been able to carefully manage these challenging group situations by attending social events as and when I chose to. However, after moving back in with my dad and step-family for lockdown in early 2020 I suddenly found myself in the deep end 24/7 and experiencing daily challenges. In order to make communication with my hearing family easier, I had to reassert my needs and ask for support so everyone could understand how to communicate with me in the best way, and I them. I tried various things to achieve this and the below are 5 of the best for living more comfortably with a hearing loss in a hearing family. 

1. Make your communication needs clear

My return to the family home was quite a readjustment for everyone as it meant relearning the nuances of hearing loss. It was quite noticeable early on that our communication was not working well. For example, my dad would get frustrated when I’d mishear something but try (unsuccessfully) to fill the gaps and respond as if I’d understood. While I would get annoyed when he would try to talk to me from across the room rather than face to face.

To help bridge the gap, I printed off a guide on how to communicate with deaf people and shared it with the household. It helped me to pinpoint scenarios where I needed extra support and how my family could make small changes to make it easier for me to keep up with conversation. I would then refer back to this whenever I needed to remind someone what they could be doing better when talking to me. 

2. Always ask someone to repeat rather than pretending to hear what they have said 

Pretending to understand what has been said (when you definitely haven’t) may seem like the easiest option at the time, but it can actually make communication with hearing people much harder and more stressful. I am very guilty of doing this, so I have to keep reminding myself that it’s OK to to ask someone to repeat themselves and that often it’s a case of them forgetting that I need extra support. 

deaf person at dinner with hearing family

Since making more of an effort to ask my family members to repeat themselves if I mishear something, I’ve noticed that they are becoming better at communicating more clearly in the first place – talking slower, enunciating words and making sure they are facing me, etc. In turn, this reduces the need for me to ask them to repeat what they have said which takes the fear away. Win win for everyone! 

3. Ask your friends and family use your name to address you in conversation 

In group conversations sometimes the easiest option for me is to zone out to avoid the stress of straining to hear, but this means that when I’m asked a question or to share something I don’t pick up on it. The result is an awkward silence as I stare blankly at everyone’s exasperated faces. 

The nature of group conversation means I am not going to catch everything being said and may miss cues to participate, but it really helps when people address me directly by name. Hearing my name amidst the chatter is like someone is flicking a switch that puts me straight into active listening mode – and I can centre on what is being asked much more quickly.  

4. Have a ‘knock twice’ or ‘message first’ rule 

A particularly embarrassing downside of having a hearing loss in a hearing family is the very likely occurrence of people entering your private space thinking that you can hear/have heard them knocking and are prepared for their entrance. I rarely hear a gentle door knock and I’ve had to awkwardly dodge being caught naked in my bedroom on several occasions. I’ve also lost count of the number of times family members have strolled into my office chattering away while I’ve been attending online meetings via Zoom.  

I now insist that people do a hard knock twice, and make sure that I have acknowledged their presence, before they come into my room or workspace. Sometimes they will also send a text or Whatsapp message so I can give them the thumbs up beforehand.

A walk in the woods

5. Make time for you 

It’s a full time job ‘trying’ to hear and keep up with hearing friends and family, so I am very conscious of finding time to be on my own when I can relax. A favourite thing of mine is having a hot bubble bath while reading a book. I also try to do some form of exercise every day, whether it’s a walk, a run or a swim, which helps to boost my mood and resets my energy levels. Feeling tired or rundown exacerbates my hearing loss and tinnitus, which makes it more difficult for me to communicate with others, so self-care is really important.

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This article was written by Tamara who works in digital marketing and has a passion for reading, volunteering, eating copious amounts of chocolate, and sharks. She has blogged about her hearing loss and journey to acceptance for the Huffington Post Lifestyle, and is a regular contributor to Deaf Unity.

Looking for more support? We’ve made it our mission to improve the lives of deaf people everywhere. Check out Deaf Unity’s projects to find out what we can do for you. If you’d like to get in touch, contact us here.

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