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Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Hearing Loss Connection

Julie & me at Hearing Loss Support Group picnic

Last weekend there was torrential rain in my area. This Saturday was sunny and perfect weather for enjoying the outdoors. The Hearing Loss Support Group in my area had a picnic outing planned for a nearby park.

I had marked this event on my calendar and RSVPed the day I got the invitation. I was resolved to go and make new friends. I was looking forward to it. Right up until it was time to get in the car that is. Then I got nervous. I had been to a support group meeting only once before and that was six months ago. Would any of the people I had met that day be at the picnic? Would I be able to make small talk with people I didn't know?

I decided I needed a companion. I was already bringing my son but I knew he would abandon me once he met any other kid. No, I wanted someone who would stay close. Who would be available at this last minute? Aha! I would bring Rusty my sweet natured golden retriever who loves to meet new people. Everyone would want to pet his soft fur and it would be easy for me to talk about him. He would be the perfect ice breaker.

When we got to the park, the first person I saw was Julie. I had met her at the previous meeting. She was also new to the group. I went right up to her and got started socializing.

About twenty-five to thirty people were at the picnic. Some were born deaf and communicate in sign language. Others have had cochlear implants and speak. Several people there were hard of hearing like me and wore hearing aids. There was one man there who is studying ASL possibly to be an interpreter someday. The rest were hearing relatives of group members. I got the chance to meet almost everyone.

I had varying degrees of success with communicating. A year ago I had taken a beginning ASL class and signs started coming back to me as I watched others signing. But of course there were many signs I didn't understand. I ended up nodding my head in agreement when I wasn't exactly sure what had been expressed. That was very frustrating for me. One time someone was signing to me about my dog and I thought he signed orange. No, he had actually used the sign for age. Oops. Interestingly, my best conversations were those that combined speech with sign. As the afternoon wore on, I started incorporating signs into my conversations even when communicating with people who could hear. It just felt natural to be signing whenever I knew the right sign for what I was saying.

Rusty was a big hit at the picnic. Most of the people there have had a dog in their lives at some time. Rusty was well behaved as usual and loved all the attention he received. My son Charlie hit it off with Julie's son and another boy there about his age. I only saw him when it was time to eat and time to leave. He was off playing the rest of the time just as I had predicted. His social skills are much better than mine!

In coming to terms with my hearing loss, I have became aware of how often I avoid socializing in groups. That could be partly my personality but it is probably also caused by my trouble with keeping up with group conversation. I'm perceived as being quiet because I don't talk much as I'm usually a beat behind everyone else. Nowadays, I only feel comfortable being in group conversation with my closest friends. That's why coming out to a social event like this was an important step out of my comfort zone. I'm glad I took the risk, though, because the people I met today were welcoming, friendly, and interesting. I look forward to interacting with them again and getting to know them better.


Karen Putz said...

Sounds like you had a great time! It is hard to go outside our comfort zones but boy, when we do, we can be rewarded! Here's to more socialization!

SpeakUp Librarian said...

Thanks, Karen. I did have a great time. I'm also motivated to learn more ASL.