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Easing the load: Hearing fatigue

Published Date: 30 Jul 2020

Mother and daughter sitting in a large wooden chair outside in the woods

Without technology, my daughter and I would live in a world of silence. Our lives would look pretty different. No music or chatting on the phone in the conventional way, we’d even miss out on my husband’s enthusiastic singing in the kitchen… Well perhaps some things would be OK!

We feel lucky to benefit from hearing technology – myself through a hearing aid and Isabelle through cochlear implants. We access sound all day; we listen to our family and friends chatter, dance to music and generally enjoy the chorus of everyday life. However, as brilliant as this is (and I would never take it for granted), we’re not ‘fixed’ as some people may perceive. Hearing takes a fair bit of effort even with technology and this can result in tiredness or fatigue for many deaf people. I’m in the helpful position to be able to empathise with my daughter as she grows up and appreciate when this may come into play, sharing my tips on how to ease the load.

TV is a relaxing activity for most people; they sink on the sofa and zone out to their favourite shows. From an early age I’ve always had subtitles, without them it’s such an effort to understand and I won’t bother watching it. I rely on lip-reading and programmes don’t always show a person’s face, especially with narration. I’m hugely thankful how widely available subtitles are now.

We had a special black box attached to the TV back in the ‘90s which could access subtitles but only on select videos. Isabelle is too young to read subtitles but in the meantime I’ve found a way to make TV an easier experience for her. She doesn’t watch a great deal and we tend to only choose programmes that we have the book for. We’ll spend time reading it through a few times before introducing the programme. She sits with it on her lap and follows the plot, turning the pages as the action progresses. We’ll talk about it at the same time and, sure enough, she could tell you the plot of Aladdin in her sleep now!

I can tell when things are a bit much for Isabelle, she stops listening and she’s quicker to throw a tantrum (though this could also just be her age!) It might be that we’ve been to a class with lots of noise and instructions to follow. It could be after visiting a soft play centre where there is a constant buzz, taking concentrated effort from both of us to lip-read and follow conversations. This is when I find it’s best to have some quiet time, away from any noise but our voices. This is also prime time for Isabelle to pick up correct pronunciations and develop her language. I’m conscious she may need this time out at school when she’s older – that will be something to monitor.

We chose to use sign language to support speech with Isabelle as soon as she was diagnosed with a hearing loss. This is really helpful for hearing fatigue as comprehension doesn’t take quite as much effort compared with listening alone. Lip-reading works in the same way; we’ve educated our family and friends to be deaf aware and ensure they face us when talking which greatly reduces how tiring communication can be. Listening or concentration fatigue is not a widely highlighted aspect of deafness but a useful issue to know about, especially for parents of newly diagnosed children. Every child is different and everyone finds their own strategies to lighten the load.

Nicky

Nicky and her husband Ross are parents to Isabelle (2). Isabelle is profoundly deaf and wears cochlear implants. Nicky is severely deaf herself and wears a hearing aid.