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10 tips for teens with hearing loss

20. September 2017
By guest authors Stephanie Olson and Lynne Canales, Children's Hospital Colorado, Board Members, Hands & Voices Colorado

The adventure of adolescence is full of discovery and challenges – socially and within ones’ self. And even more so for teens who are hard of hearing, as they have to cope with the challenges of becoming adults and their hearing impairment. With this blog post we share ten tips to support teens with hearing loss to develop and to overcome barriers.

Adolescents seemingly expend constant energy to become strong, unique individuals while at the same time trying to fit in without standing out. For young people who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH), adolescence provides the opportunity for them to own their hearing without it becoming their central identity. They do not want to be defined solely by their audiogram, technology, or by the accommodations they use. And they don’t wish for normal hearing but that “people wouldn’t think of us as impaired or broken".  
At the Colorado Hearing Foundation-sponsored Journey Through Adolescence Conference (Children’s Hospital Colorado March 2017), Jonah Berger, therapeutic mentor, stated “…disability should not be in charge, we are in charge…” Adolescents can learn to take charge and become confident with who they are as they choose their path in life. To support confidence and self-advocacy for teens who are DHH these tips may help them on their journey of self-discovery:

1. Empower advocacy

Empower advocacy by teaching adolescents how to become active in their audiology and educational appointments. They need to learn to become experts about their own hearing and tell professionals what makes them grumpy or frustrated in school, with their technology, or being deaf/hard of hearing.  They need to describe what makes them hear better and how they prefer to communicate. Learning the skills of self-advocacy will help teens mature into fully independent adults. 

2. Motive to explore choices

Advocacy starts with understanding your hearing, your technology and what works well for you. Adolescence is a time for DHH teens to try new technology, strategies and communication styles to have full access to the information that their peers are receiving. Encourage your teen to explore their options. Sometimes the hardest part of making choices is taking the first step to try something new.  

3. Foster independence

Building future independence of teens that are DHH should start early and the goals for independence should be the same as for their siblings. For example, teens should be expected to get up on their own and get ready for school in the morning. Show DHH teens how to use vibrating alarm clocks or other technologies to develop this independence.

4. Talk about cyber safety

Technology is rapidly advancing and can remove some of the typical and frustrating communication barriers. To stay connected with friends, teens can now access instant messaging, texting, social media, real time captioning apps, video relay. Internet safety and supervision is critical and must be taught to all children and youth regardless of their hearing differences. Additional information on cyber safety may be referenced at www.handsandvoices.org/resources/OUR/2014/V17-3_cybersafety.htm

5. Open doors with cultural literacy

Teens who are DHH benefit from being informed on and connected to current teen culture.  Incidental language and learning is rapidly acquired during adolescence through music, movies and TV. Encourage them to use YouTube, videos,  technology and interpreters that specialize in signing music and live concerts. This will help them to feel being a part of a team or other activities and give the teen another identity besides their hearing.

6. Develop social communication

Adolescence and with it the development of friendships requires communication skills.  Teens need to develop the skills to repair communication breakdowns, which include asking for clarification and asking for information to be repeated. They have to learn to take over responsibility to increase their ability to be better understood, whether that be through spoken language, sign language or both.  Offer them multiple opportunities to socialize with friends and family members. It will help them to increase their confidence and ability to repair communication breakdowns.

7. Encourage to stay true

Sometimes, it is easier to revert to faking or pretending that we are hearing rather than asking for repetition for the third, fourth or fifth time. Encourage youth to be true to themselves and to the people with whom they are interacting. Responding with “just forget it”, is unfair to all. People with typical hearing do not hear everything and ask for repetitions with confidence.  Let teens know that it’s okay to take a break when they are working hard to hear and to let people know that is hard to hear everything that is being said. 

8. Build up self-identity

Like all adolescents, teens who are DHH struggle with self-esteem and self-identity.  Teens who are DHH may feel comfortable with people who are hearing or people who are deaf, depending on the time or the social situation. Make sure they know that they do not need to choose only one group, and that the group is not their self-identity. The development of self-identity is a life-long, fluid process. 

9. Find role models

You can’t be what you can’t see. DHH role models or mentors are the best kept secret but it shouldn’t be that way.  If teens, parents or professionals are curious about the possibilities and successes of people who are hard of hearing in today’s world, then seek out the people that are on that journey.  As you and your teen meet people and cultivate stories, keep in mind that your child will have their own unique experiences and journey. For perspectives from teens may be referenced at www.handsandvoices.org/resources/dhh_adults.html

10. Build up self-esteem

Teasing and bullying will happen whether you are deaf, hard of hearing or not. Help your teen learn a variety of skills to get through all kinds of situations. https://www.kidpower.org/ is an international organization that provides trainings to increase safety and confidence. Your DHH adolescent can teach the community how they want to be treated, what they need for respect, and what they have to offer. The respect one has for oneself becomes the model for the respect one receives from others.  
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