March 6, 2011

The Friend Connection

Finding other families with hard-of-hearing children seemed like such an important thing to do when Hadley was younger. It was obviously helpful to me, as I shared my ideas and complaints with other parents who understood the not-so-obvious challenges of raising a child with a hearing loss. I took it for granted that some day Hadley would want to know other kids who listen to the world through hearing aids. In our years of auditory-verbal therapy, we overlapped our sessions to meet other children and their families. This was great for me and Hadley liked it too, but there was nothing special or unique about her interactions with other kids. They were simply kids playing with kids, just with a few thousand dollars worth of technology on their heads.

We happen to live in an area with several other mainstreamed hard-of-hearing children, all of whom are being raised to listen and speak with their voices. I thought now that Hadley was older, she might seek these kids out or benefit from some regular contact with them. Hadley really likes them all, and I've loved getting to know the parents, but there is nothing special or unique about her interactions with these kids. They are simply kids playing with kids, just with a few thousand dollars worth of technology on their heads. (Are you sensing a theme?)

Earlier this winter, I was asked to speak to another mom in the area and answer some questions about auditory-verbal therapy for her daughter. Who is also 9. Who was also identified at birth with a hearing loss. Who also wears hearing aids. Who also is spirited, outgoing, talkative and dramatic. We agreed to introduce the girls to each other, and I really though it would be just like before: they'd meet, they'd have a good time, they'd go home.

What passed over the following two hours was straight out of a movie. They immediately checked out each other's hearing aids (and clothes). Hadley and E compared trials and tribulations of living life with a hearing loss (and compared favorite music and toys). They unconsciously repeated words and rephrased sentences if the other misheard or misunderstood what was said. It occurred to me that Hadley was displaying the truest version of herself to E. The thin, protective wall that often exists while playing with other kids wasn't there.

Now, some people might read that statement as a reason for like to stay with like: that schools and communities for the deaf and hard-of-hearing provide environments for these kids to be their natural selves. Instead, I took this experience as a way for Hadley to further understand how she can hang out and play with all of her friends. We talked a bit about how it felt to meet E, if they played differently with each other, how they handled sharing and decision-making...and how Hadley could use these same strategies with any friend. Hadley and E have played together and emailed a bunch of times since first meeting in December. Each time, they talk less and less about their shared hearing loss and more and more about their other shared interests. Their friendship continues because of all these "others"; the hearing loss may have initiated their meeting, but their personalities will shape and define their relationship with one another.

So, no, I really don't think Hadley needs hard-of-hearing friends now any more than she did in the past. Certainly, this might change as she grows older and I'm open to that possibility. What has remained a constant is that I still need to know parents of hard-of-hearing kids. I learn so much from their experiences and bouncing ideas off of like-minded adults. Since I'll continue to seek out these parents who are committed to raising their kids to listen and speak, I know that door to making new friendships will always exist for Hadley as well.

In the end, hearing loss or no hearing loss, it's still pretty awesome to make a really good new friend. I have a feeling this is just the first of many more pictures to be taken of these two.

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