I was chatting with our adult son recently, reflecting back on his childhood, and the “no never mind” rule came up. I don’t recall who first taught me the “no never mind” rule so unfortunately I can’t give them their due credit, but I have heard several people refer to it over the years, and I have always thought it’s worth passing on to families of young children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
So what is the “no never mind” rule? It is a rule that our family followed very strictly over the years, and it was simply the idea that it was never OK to tell our hard of hearing son “never mind” if he missed something and asked what was said. And to keep things fair, the same rule applied to everyone else in the family. So whether the person said “what?” or “pardon?” or “huh?” or “I didn’t hear you,” the expectation was that the person speaking would repeat what they said. In our family, we used mostly spoken language with some sign support, but this rule is not specific to any particular language or communication approach – it is about having access to what is being communicated from one person to another.
There are several reasons why this rule is so important for children who are deaf or hard of hearing:
When you tell someone “never mind,” you may think you’re sending the message “never mind, it’s not important.” However, the message that is heard and felt at the other end of that exchange is often “never mind, you’re not important.” We were very intentional about building and preserving our son’s self esteem – we wanted him to know that we thought he deserved to access what was being said just as much as everyone else in our family, and was no less valued. So even if we knew the information was not intended for him or would not be of interest to him, we would repeat what was said, and let him make that decision for himself.
We also wanted our son to learn that he has the right to full access in any situation. When he and his siblings were young, we modelled and reinforced the rule at home. As he got older, that expectation was internalized, and he started telling other people that they couldn’t say “never mind” to him. He reflects back now that he wasn’t necessarily able to explain it well at that time, as to him it was just a rule, but it definitely made him fight for what he missed. “I kind of laugh in hindsight because none of the other kids at school would have known the rule, but I assumed it was a universal thing at that point.”
Incidental Learning/ World Knowledge
We were aware that kids who are deaf or hard of hearing often miss out on opportunities for incidental learning – they don’t have easy access to “overhear” conversations in the same way that most kids with typical hearing do in hearing families, or as signing kids do in families where the first language is ASL. By accessing comments or conversations that are not necessarily intended for them, children gradually acquire something called “world knowledge.” They learn that adults don’t always agree about things, that relatives get sick, that a repair person can be called when the washing machine breaks, that people pay income tax etc. There are so many things that we don’t explicitly teach our children, and they learn simply by being exposed to conversations. So any time our son asked what had been said, as long as it wasn’t private or confidential, we repeated it.
Now, as an adult looking back, Jesse says that rule made a big difference for him. “It really taught me that I was entitled to full access, and as a result made me fight for access when I didn’t have it.” He noted that to this day he gets really indignant when someone tells him “never mind” – which he thinks is a good thing.