Getting Extended Family Members Involved

What techniques do you use to get extended family members to interact and communicate with your deaf or hard of hearing child?

Parents Using Spoken Language

I share with my family times when hearing is difficult for my daughter. I want them to learn that listening can be difficult in noisy situations and sometimes it is hard to follow conversations. I point out to family that sometimes the frustration she shows is because she does not understand what is being said. We shared with our family resources to help them understand what our daughter's hearing loss was really like. We remind them that she hears best when she is near the person speaking and when she is not in noisy situations. I discussed with them his hearing loss and how to better communicate with him. You must go to him and communicate face to face. Children who are hard of hearing or deaf children often learn visually. I taught my family that he needs to see your face. Do not get upset if he does not respond, because you need to check in with him and see if he understands, and allow him to communicate back to you. Education is the key, but don't overwhelm the family with the small details. Tell them what your child needs from them. We encouraged them to talk to our child, not through us. We tried to insist that she answers questions and we worked hard not to answer them for her. We included her in all conversations. On occasion we have to remind family members that our children do not hear well in noisy environments. Just pointing out to family what techniques we use like facing them directly or speaking near their cochlear implant microphones helps them to understand more clearly. We told our family that we were going to talk every day until we were exhausted! We got Grandparents involved by reading books and playing games. We shared a lot with our extended family. We openly talked about difficulties and frustrations he experienced with communication. When people did not look at him when they spoke, we reminded them that he needed them to do that. We were lucky that we had family that wanted to communicate with our child. Our child has grown from using sign language (which our extended family participated in learning and practicing with us) to using all oral communication. Our family knows to make sure he sees their faces for lip reading. They go the extra mile to make sure he is included and understands! We have explained to extended family that our children may have difficulty hearing them if they are facing away from them or if they are in a noisy environment.  I think they started to realize that following our suggestions keeps them from having to repeat words or sentences.

Parents Using Sign Language:

My parents took sign classes from a friend of theirs in another state, and have been very excited to share with my child what they have learned. One thing that was hard for my sister was that she wanted my deaf child to stay the summer with her and I said I did not think it would be fair to my child to go someplace where they wouldn't be able to communicate with her. That gave some of my family member's incentive to want to be a part of my child's life. Actually I have found this to be very difficult, frustrating, and at times hurtful. I explained the situation to all my friends and family. I felt that it was unfair to put pressure on them to learn sign, but certainly told them how important it was to me and to my daughter. I made time to teach sign language on a regular basis and shared what I was learning as I was learning it. Many of my family and friends were great and were dedicated to learning and have done well, and I am so grateful for them. Going to family sign class was a good experience for my family. It made everyone feel more understanding and less threatened being around our daughter. We gave them sign books and videotapes. We also found it helped to let them take care of our child for short periods of time by themselves. I decided early on that I would not force anyone in my family to learn to sign, but encouraged them as much as possible. It has been interesting to see who has taken an interest over the years. My parents were wonderful. They hired a sign tutor to come to their home every week for several months to teach them, along with some of our other relatives and neighbors. Interestingly, those who have had the most contact with my child over the years, and have had the most opportunities to learn to communicate with her have not done so. In the end, they are the ones who are missing out. It is hard, but you have to accept that not everyone is going to take the time, and instead of wasting time being angry about it, it is much more productive to encourage and teach those who show the most interest, particularly the children in the family, since they are like sponges and are often very eager to learn new ways to communicate. With us this is a simple matter. We tell relatives, visitors, friends, everyone, that he cannot understand their words, only signing, and then we either translate for them or teach them how to sign what they are trying to say. It takes extra time, but it results in our son knowing that they care enough to learn to communicate with him. That says a lot. Hannah just signs with them as if they know how to sign. I encourage them to go to sign classes and I interpret for them. Sometimes I don't interpret so family understands that they need to get more involved.