As the founding editor of Phonak’s community blog “Open Ears” (now part of “Hearing Like Me“) I contributed a series of articles on hearing loss between 2014 and 2015. Here they are.
You’ve read articles about this, right? How we the hearing less don’t appreciate being told “never mind” or “it’s not important” when we’re asking for something we didn’t understand to be repeated.
Since I started wearing hearing aids, I’ve had a few years to reflect on the impact growing up hearing less, first undiagnosed, then underestimated. When I see what a hard time adults sometimes have adjusting their communication habits to my ears, and that I still sometimes fake it despite my fancy cutting-edge hearing aids, I can only imagine what an impact this had on my relationships and ability to socialise as a child.
Some years ago I met up with a few girls I was in kindergarten with. It was really fun to meet them as adults, and we got on great, although we weren’t all exactly friends when we were in school together. I saw them as the “popular” girls and they didn’t seem to be very interested in me. As I was mentioning that, one of them remarked that it wasn’t they didn’t like me, but that I didn’t really speak to them or answer when they spoke to me.
Shyness? I was shy. But now, I’m thinking I probably didn’t even hear or understand them. And, as another said, “we were five years old”.
What I’m getting at is that when you don’t hear as well as most of the people around you, you are automatically left out to some extent. You don’t have access to the same sound information as everybody else. You miss things. You misunderstand things. And when you are a child or a teenager, you will be mostly dealing with human beings who are probably not very good at taking that into account.
For many years I blamed my social difficulties as a child on being “awkward”, or not socially skilled, or not likeable, or whatnot. So yes, maybe I was a smart nerdy awkward kid, but the more I think of it, the more I’m convinced that my hearing loss played some role in there.
I’m dragging you into my childhood because I think that for those of us who grew up with hearing loss, “never mind” and other “it’s not important” responses hit right upon this sore spot of being left out. For those who lost hearing later in life, it probably hits a slightly different button, the one about losing an ability you had in the past, and not being able to function socially as you used to anymore.
There is something dismissive and patronising in “never mind”. The words being said were words I was expected to hear and understand, that others around heard and understood. They were uttered and audible-to-normal-ears, and as such made available to the hearer for an executive decision about their importance. If it really weren’t important, you wouldn’t have said it, right? And, as I like to point out to people who dismiss social media as “useless chatter”, these seemingly random and unimportant exchanges are the very ones which draw people together and create relationships.
What “never mind” says is “it is not worth the effort to give you access to this information that other people have”. It is not worth including you. And yes, I get it. You might think it’s not worth the effort.
But to me, it means a lot to feel included, to feel that I am worth the effort. Even if it’s just to get confirmation that indeed, it was nothing important.
At least I get to make that call.