I first started learning sign language in junior high, when my mom picked it back up and started interpreting again. Through high school and college I met a lot of deaf and hard of hearing kids through working/volunteering in the schools. Almost every single kid wore hearing aids or a cochlear implant, as the school district I worked in was a big believer in “Total Communication” (signing and voicing at the same time) and put a big focus on learning “language” (which they only considered to be spoken/written English). (FWIW Even at the time, this focus/view bothered me.)
Several of those kids would surreptitiously turn off (or take off or “forget”) their hearing aids every chance they got. Which caused a lot of battles of the will, since they were *supposed* to be keeping them on so they could learn to use their hearing and get a full learning experience! (/sarcasm)
The kids wanting to turn off their hearing aids/CIs never seemed to weird to me. The way hearing aids work, everything is amplified the same. With normal hearing, we have the ability to focus in on one set of sounds and ignore another. So, for example, if you’re listening to a speaker and there’s music in another room, you can choose to focus on the speaker and tune out the music. It doesn’t mean you can’t hear the music, it means it’s more-or-less going in one ear and out the other and you’re not processing it.
Hearing aids can’t do that. They amplify everything. You can’t decide to just not listen to background noise, it comes in loud and clear. Now, to some extent, you can work around it, but it’s much more difficult.
So it never surprised me that a lot of the kids didn’t want their hearing aids/CIs on. They tended to be the kids with less hearing, and tended to be the kids who relied on sign for communication rather than speaking. It just made sense to me that they wouldn’t want all the superfluous noise to sort through.
Then, last night, I got deeper insight into why this might be.
I attended a Deaf comedy show by the Anderson twins. They are adult twin brothers, one of whom is profoundly deaf and one of whom is hearing. They go on the road doing stand up comedy together, and they were really freaking good. I laughed a lot, even though the whole show was in ASL and was not voice interpreted, and I’m just getting back into sign and probably missed half the jokes :P Since the show was in ASL I was focusing really hard to take it in. It is not a natural language for me (yet), so I had to really pay attention to follow along.
For the first half of the show, all was fine. I was following pretty well, it was a great show! They had a short intermission, and then came back.
Did I mention the show was in the upstairs room of a bar/restraunt? ’cause it was. And while for the first half of the show there was music playing downstairs, it was pretty quiet. I did fine.
With the second half came the karaoke. The very, very LOUD karaoke. Because evidently that’s a rule: karaoke has to be obnoxiously loud to get the right ambiance.
And I had a really hard time tuning it out. OK, it wasn’t even that loud, just loud enough that I could hear the words instead of just getting a gist. But it was hard to ignore.
And I caught myself wondering why. Why was it so hard to tune out, when I can normally tune things like that out without too much trouble?
And I realized – with the comedy show, I was thinking silently. There was no sound to the show, except the occaisional audience laughter. Otherwise, it was silent. The language was all silent. And I was thinking silently.
I know many people who have learned a second language and lived abroad, using only that language, and they say the point they know they’ve really got the language and made it a part of them is when they start dreaming in it. And then they realize their thoughts are in it. Because now their mind is running in terms of that language primarily, since they’re living it.
Well, for people living a silent language, maybe their thoughts are running silently. And noise coming in is just obnoxious because it clashes with the way their thoughts are running. Even people who use their hearing but sign primarily would be thinking in their primary language of silence. And there are times, especially when you’re thinking hard and focusing, like at school, where those sounds coming in are just..well..obnoxious! Not helping with, and in fact, contradictory to the language of your thoughts. You almost have to derail your silent thinking to process the sounds. Not completely, but it’s definitely harder.
Or at least, it was for hearing old me. I’m not deaf. Nor Deaf. I’m just imagining.
Because for me, when I was trying to think silently, and process silent language, it was a lot harder to tune out sounds then when I’m thinking verbally (still in my head) and processing spoken language. Maybe because when I’m processing spoken language/thinking verbally, I’m already using the auditory/verbal processing part of my brain, and when I’m focusing on a silent language it calls up a whole ‘nother part to figure out what to ignore.
But to recap: Me? Not deaf. Not Deaf. Not HoH. Not speaking for them. If you are, feel free to correct me.
To me, though, it felt like I got it a little better.
And if last night I had the option to reach up and turn off my hearing so that I could focus on the visual speaker better, you can bet I would have done it in a heartbeat.
Maybe we could have more understanding for kids who want to do the same, rather than forcing them to be as “normal” as they can by “using” their hearing all the time.