A few weeks ago I attended a session at the Center for Hearing and Communication (CHC) in Lower Manhattan, entitled Navigating Your Child’s Listening Challenges. The speakers that evening were Lois Kam Heymann, director of the Steven and Shelly Einhorn Communication Center at CHC, and Dr. Dale Atkins, a New York based psychologist who is concerned about the socialization processes of children with special needs.
To start we went around the room and introduced ourselves and spoke briefly about our children and their challenges. There was a good mix – some had children who wore hearing aids for mild hearing loss, others had children who were profoundly hard of hearing and were newly implanted with cochlear implants, still other parents had children who were struggling with auditory processing disorder.
The topic of socialization and peer groups came up, which it inevitably does when a group of parents of children with hearing and listening challenges get together. It’s a topic of concern – we wonder how our children are going to make friends, how they are going to “fit-in” to the social scene that erupts in middle school and continues through high school. Will my child have friends? Will they fall in love? Will they be successful? These thoughts race through our mind as our child makes their way through school.
One comment that stuck with me from Ms. Heymann was the idea that “at the basis of all social skills are listening skill,” and I thought about how true that is – as parents we easily forget about all the skills that are involved in communication, it is so much more than simply speaking.
Susan Cain, in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, sums it up nicely.
…interpreting what the other person is saying; reading body language and facial expressions; smoothly taking turns talking and listening; responding to what the other person said; assessing whether you’re being understood; determining whether you are well received, and if not, figuring out how to improve or remove yourself from the situation…(p.237)
And those are just the skills involved in a one to one conversation, imagine those skills multiplied in a group situation, or distorted through hearing loss or a processing difficulty!
As parents of children with hearing loss we sometimes forget to practice the art of conversation. We are often so focused on hearing our child speak that we only focus on the output – we forget to give our child space to take turns; to ask questions – they become involved in lengthy monologues because we take such enjoyment in hearing their voices and hearing their thoughts. We forget to teach them the rules of conversation; we let them interrupt; we let them get away with not answering questions; we speak for them.
So, while it is important for us to give our children the space to talk, we also need to give them the space to listen, to let others enter the conversation, to become involved in the “give and take” that not only forms the basis for conversations, but also forms the basis for relationships.