My family immigrated to Canada when I was two years old, back in the late 70s. That was almost 40 years ago! This past holiday season we decided to take the whole family back to my home country. We still have very strong ties there, most of my relatives still live there and we are in constant contact. I was thrilled at the thought of going back (it had been over a decade since I was last there) and we spent many hours planning and packing for our month long trip.
We did all of the normal preparations: gifts for the family, enough seasonally appropriate clothing, and mapping out where we wanted to spend our days and weekends. There was a little anxiety at the thought of the long haul flights with my two young children but, if I’m honest, what I was most anxious about was how to navigate my daughter’s hearing loss in a completely different culture and country. Added to that was the concern that my two children don’t speak my native language. They understand it perfectly but always reply in English.
The last time I had been back, hearing loss and equipment were far from my radar. I had no idea how many things that I take for granted here would play out. I know about the technology available here, what people’s typical reactions are and I am comfortable navigating social situations when I need to explain any accommodations my child might need. But all of these things were a complete mystery to me in relation to my home country.
All my family are aware of my daughter’s hearing loss and I am always open and forthcoming with them about her hearing levels and equipment. But somehow it’s not quite so real when you’re talking over FaceTime is it? How would they react when we were there? Would they remember that if she’s not wearing her hearing aid she may not hear them? Would they try and make eye contact? Would her cousins be gentle when the inevitable rough housing happened? What if there were questions from other kids? A million things went through my head before we finally got on that plane.
We arrived at 1am exhausted and, after a good long sleep and breakfast, I gathered the cousins and my daughter. I showed them her hearing aid. I let my daughter explain in her own words (in English) why she needs it and how she puts it on. I translated everything for her (and I filled in some blanks). We asked them if they had any questions. “Can she still hear us?” I let her answer in her own words. The more forthcoming I was, the more comfortable it made everyone. It went… exactly as it would have at home, beautifully. No big deal. Then off they went to navigate the fun of play in two languages. They quickly and easily learned to communicate with each other in both languages. And if the questions came from other kids, my daughter’s cousins now had the language/ knowledge to explain to the others. Wonderful!
Even if you have a younger child, who may not yet have the language or means to speak for themselves, a mini intro to your child’s hearing loss/ hearing device/ accommodation needs/ communication methods in your words to others would be equally as beneficial. I always find it to be a great learning opportunity for all.
The rest of our holiday went much the same. It was really no big deal. All these moments were the same as they are here, wonderful opportunities to educate others and learn from them as well. I didn’t see any other children with hearing aids; apparently health care doesn’t cover them for children and most people don’t have the means to purchase them. I learned a lot about what hearing loss for kids looks like there, so it was an opportunity for me to educate myself too!
Here are some other tips I can offer:
- Even if your child doesn’t speak the language, teach them some basic words to communicate with others in the target language. (I had to do this while we were on our trip, but I wish I’d done it before) Examples include, Hearing Aid, Cochlear Implant, Hearing Loss, “sorry, I can’t hear you”, “Can you please say it again?”
- Try to educate yourself about what services/ schools or communication options are available in that country! I also wish I’d done more research on this. It would have made for even richer conversations and exchanges. “This is what it’s like in Canada, I’ve read there’s XYZ here, that’s the same/ different!”
- Questions are great opportunities to model the language for your kids, let them hear you. This applies no matter where you are, home or away!
A lot of my anxiety quickly dissipated and we all had a great time. I had forgotten a fundamental kid truth: no matter the culture or country, kids are kids and just want to play!