By Janick Hickman, Mental Health Counselor
With the holiday season underway, now is the perfect time to consider the role of connection in our lives and ways we can make the most out of our time together with loved ones.
Connecting with others provides a positive and invaluable boost to our emotional and mental health. Meaningful connection is not about the number of likes we receive from behind a computer screen, but rather the engagement with those that love us and support us, even if from afar.
We connect through communication, so barriers that hinder our ability to communicate also keep us apart. For those with hearing loss, the distance from one end of the dining table to the other can seem like miles when families are gathered together and so many conversations are taking place at one time.
Restricted access to communication often leads to feelings of isolation, depression, embarrassment, and low self-esteem. In children, these feelings can manifest as "acting out." They might appear inattentive or angry or offer inappropriate responses to questions.
Enhancing Positive Connections
Effective communication requires active participation and effort by all parties involved. Flexibility, trial and error, and thinking outside the box are key to inclusion and affording the person with hearing loss the opportunity to be part of the fold rather than the exception.
My colleague Jeff Wax, Director of CHC's Baker Family Emotional Health and Wellness Center, shares perspective on the importance of enhancing positive connections:
Remember that communication is multilayered. We communicate vocabulary and practical information—please pass the potatoes—but it is the emotional message and energy that has far more impact between people than any misunderstood word.
Positive, connected, loving emotional messages are most important in fostering loving relationships. When there is not a shared language in the family or a healthy manner of communicating, relationships are impacted and this can be important to think about. If you need help and support in improving relationships, please don't hesitate to contact Janick Hickman or myself, Jeff Wax.
For a person who is Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing, this disconnection can be the primary felt emotional experience. This can be quite difficult around holiday gatherings. Enhancing positive connections and communication is a two-way street, and there are always opportunities to improve.
When choosing to participate in good communication, with more ease, encourage yourself to have patience and be mindful. Your purposeful effort will offer opportunities for change and shared goodwill.
Tips for Staying Connected Over the Holidays
Whether you are trying to connect with family and friends in another city, another state, another country or at the table across from you, the following are some ideas and opportunities for staying connected to your loved ones this holiday season.
Communication Access Tips
Get the person’s attention before speaking. Say their name, tap them on shoulder, tap the table.
Face the individual when speaking so that they can read your lips and facial expressions when you speak. Do not cover your mouth or turn your back.
Be mindful of background noise. Take care to ensure that there is sufficient light on your face and to avoid bright light behind you.
Do not talk to each other from another room.
If not understood, try finding different words to express your message rather than continue to repeat the same words.
Take turns speaking
Include everyone in the conversation. Do not use statements such as never mind, it’s not important, I will tell you later. Repeat what was said and, if necessary, find different words to explain. Use visuals and text if possible.
Make sure Closed Captioning (CC) is turned on during family movie nights.
Check in and ask questions when the individual in alone.
Invite a friend with whom your loved one can communicate in their preferred mode of communication.
If your loved one uses Sign Language, hire an interpreter for family events (perhaps have other family members chip in). Everyone will benefit from this unrestricted communication access.
Deaf-Friendly Games to Brighten Everyone’s Spirits
Charades (You can communicate your guesses using gestures, facial expressions, fingerspelling and pen and paper)
Poker (for adults)
Apples to Apples (Use paper and pen to write down guesses)
Tech Support All Year Round
Video Relay Services for American Sign Language (ASL) - The following services provide an ASL interpreter to make phone conversations accessible between individuals using ASL and those who communicate using spoken language:
Accessible Phone Calls with Captioning - The following services provide captioning in real time to assist individuals who are hard of hearing or deaf in following and participating in phone conversations:
Real-Time Captioning of In-Person Conversations - These apps can make in-person conversations accessible by transcribing spoken language in real time. They work best when one person speaks at a time in a quiet space. All are for Android and iPhone users except for Google Live Transcribe which is only for Android users.
We hope these communication tips and tech tools help you rediscover meaningful and positive connection! If you have questions or would like to share your ideas for better communication, please don't hesitate to contact me at jhickman@CHChearing.org or Jeff Wax at jwax@CHChearing.org.