by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
The father of a hard of hearing child asked:
Does your kid (or did you, as a kid) ever get depressed about hearing loss?
Our eleven year old son has worn hearing aids since age three. When he started, we successfully made it a happy condition, as he ran to show everyone the cool colored ear molds on his “electric ears,” etc. No problem from his point of view.
As is normal for eleven-year-olds, he is now more acutely aware of every slight difference between himself and the “norm”, and especially between himself and the “cool guys.”
He usually deals with all this reasonably well, but when his defenses are down, as when he’s tired, the impact of his hearing loss, the fact that the teachers wear the FM just for him, the fact that he has to wear hearing aids and might someday lose the rest of his hearing, just hits him hard. At those times, he is a very sad boy. The duration of these bouts can sometimes be measured in minutes—other times, hours, but they never persist to a pathological extent. Nevertheless, they’re painful for him and for us when they occur.
We understand that grieving for his lost hearing is normal and healthy, but that does nothing to diminish our desire to help him feel better.
Aside from the obvious prescriptions of active listening and hugs, are there any pearls of wisdom about ways to make people who are sad about their hearing loss feel better?
It’s totally understandable that your son feels down and depressed at times. These episodes are likely more painful to you as the parents, than to him. I understand your desire to help the pain go away. However, you don’t want to take the pain away (well you do—but you shouldn’t) because that is part of the grieving process. He needs to feel his grief, deal with it, and let it go. If you shield him from it (or give him drugs to suppress these feelings) all you are really doing is delaying the grieving process (and causing him other problems in the meantime).
Therefore, the right thing to do is help him through the grieving process. How do you do that, you ask?
One thing you need to do is acknowledge that having a hearing loss is a real pain—it’s not easy living with a hearing loss. I know. I was born with a severe hearing loss and had to deal with it too. Don’t make light of his hearing problems and the pain he feels—but at the same time, explain to him that grieving is a process and that he is working through this grieving process. Assure him that this process has an end—it won’t go on forever, and he won’t always feel this way. This will give him hope.
You can even identify which of the stages of grief he is in so he can see that he is actually making progress through the grieving process. When he is down, he needs to know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel—and that it is getting closer all the time, whether he can see it or not. Imagine that he is in a dark tunnel, and that the tunnel has a big bend in it so he can’t see the light at the end until he gets around the bend of depression that is in the middle of the tunnel. You can be his light until he gets around the bend and can see it for himself.
My short book, “Grieving for Your Hearing Loss—the Rocky Road from Denial to Acceptance” has helped many. It can help both you and him successfully navigate this grieving process.
Another thing you can do to help him is to find him some successful hard of hearing role models so he knows that hearing loss isn’t a lifetime sentence to mediocrity and low-paying jobs; that it is possible to be successful in spite of his hearing loss. He can learn from, and emulate, these successful role models and be successful himself.
Also, he needs his own support “group” that he can turn to apart from you—his parents. These can be other hard of hearing people that have already been down the road before him and can show him the way, and other hard of hearing peers. Often parents aren’t the best ones for this role because they are also grieving for their child’s hearing loss and so aren’t emotionally “all there” to help their child.
In summary, acknowledge to him that the pain/depression/grief he feels is real, but it will pass. Encourage him to be the best hard of hearing person he can be. Assure him that although hearing loss may change his life in some ways, his life need not be any less rewarding or fulfilling because of his hearing loss, it may just be a bit different. That has been my experience. It can be his too.