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EmJay1070's avatar

How does a hearing impaired introvert make friends?

Asked by EmJay1070 (136 points ) 3 weeks ago

My hearing impairment is sensorineural. With my hearing aids, I can hear speech, but have difficulty understanding as there is little clarity, especially in environments with background noise. When I try to explain to hearing people (very politely) how they should talk to me, they either quickly forget, stop trying to talk to me, or tell me it’s ‘not important’. This leaves me quite isolated. There are no ‘deaf clubs’ nearby and those that are available cater for the Deaf community where everyone speaks in sign language, which I don’t understand. The deaf have there own culture and language. I find, as a hearing impaired person, I’m not part of the hearing world, but don’t fit into the deaf world either. Any suggestions would be welcome. Thank you.

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13 Answers

janbb's avatar

Sent this to linguaphile who might have some good advice.

EmJay1070's avatar

@janbb – Thanks. Much appreciated!

hearkat's avatar

As an introverted Audiologist, I can understand the complexities of what you’re faced with.

My best friend married a man who is hearing impaired, and even with me helping him explain it to her, she never really ‘got’ what it’s like, and still would get frustrated with him. Hearing develops very early in utero, and it’s always on, which is why we take it for granted until it isn’t there anymore. Most people don’t understand the difference between hearing impaired and deaf people who are immersed in the deaf community, either.

I suggest you search the internet and try to find or even start a group for hearing impaired people. You could also start with the Hearing Loss Association of America’s site as they’ have local groups that hold meetings.

Also, talk to your audiologist: some of the newer technologies and accessories are truly amazing; and there are also programs, like LACE, that help you strengthen your listening skills. Many of my patients are in tears of joy when they upgrade to the newer systems. Of course, some people’s auditory processing system still struggles even with the best technology, but you don’t know if you don’t try.

EmJay1070's avatar

@hearkat – wow! I’ve been wondering about this for years now. I’ve only just joined Fluther tonight and one of the first to respond is an Audiologist! Wish I’d known about this site before!

My Gran had to wear a BTE aid, and always hated it. She said it was noisy and echoed a lot. So she seldom wore it. Her friend would often get frustrated about this. I found myself having to explain to Gran’s friend why she seldom wore it.

I myself wear 2 BTE aids. My hearing was damaged due to otitis media when I was a child, operations to insert (then later remove) grommets. Also had ruptured tympanic membrane. I’d no hearing aids at all in school, so you can imagine what that was like. Of course at such a young age, I was clueless about it.

I have thought in the past about starting a group for hearing impaired people. But locally there doesn’t really seem to be much happening. It’s a quiet area, and to be honest, I wouldn’t know how to go about starting such a group. I don’t really use social media at all and don’t have a website either. I’m more of a follower than a leader anyway. Still, it’s worth thinking about.

The organisations over here (I’m in Scotland by the way) seem to be more centrally based, in the larger cities. Fine if you have your own transport. I don’t. And being an introvert, a group environment is not the best of situations for me, never mind being HI.

It may well be time for another visit to my audiologist. I know that newer technologies are available, however with the state of our National Health Service, there are limited options, unless I was to go private. Also, my ear canals are very narrow, so not all types of aid would be suitable. Your last point, about people’s auditory processing system is very true. Most of the aids we have here amplify what sounds our ears can pick up, but if (as in my own case) the nerve is damaged, you will still be hearing distorted sound.

Something I’ve sometimes suggested to people to help them understand what being hearing impaired is like. Put a piece of cotton wool in each ear, then try to hear the television, talk on the phone etc. etc. So far, no one I know of has actually tried this.

sebb's avatar

If you do nothing else do the LACE program, I know a couple people who have done it and their comprehension has improved about 25–30%. Also, if your HA’s don’t already have a restaurant or speech in noise program, have your audi add one, mine put one in one of my program spots and it is fantastic, the background noise basically goes away and you just hear those around you.

GloPro's avatar

Maybe it would be an interesting challenge for you to sign up for a communications class at the local college. People may enjoy sharpening a skill set that involves communication in a precise way. Also, taking classes is a nice way to ensure you see the same people regularly for a set time. It’s up to you to make friends in that setting, but it might help!

EmJay1070's avatar

@sebb – I’ve never heard of the LACE programme. I’m in Scotland, don’t know if we have that one here. It does sound good though. My HA’s do have a speech in noise programmee, but I don’t use it very often. I’m not usually in venues/places that require it. But it does help some.

EmJay1070's avatar

@GloPro – That’s an interesting idea. I like the idea of communications. The problem I’ve found though, is I’ve done many classes before, got a bunch of certificates from them. But when the classes were over, so was the contact with the people who attended. In my own experience, people here go to classes for the subject matter, and not to find/make friends. Once people find out a bit about me, they mostly avoid me. It’s not their fault. There needs to be more awareness of communication with the HA. But even when I tell people, they still don’t want to know for long. It’s too much effort for them, and unless they have family members who are HA, the default seems to be to avoid.

GloPro's avatar

@EmJay1070 That’s why I suggested communications classes specifically. Hopefully the students will step up to the challenge of effectively communicating with you. You could even tell the instructor privately that you are taking the class because you desire learning how to be a better communicator given your circumstances. Or, if you can muster the courage, say that to the whole class when you do the introductions on the first day. You know there will be an introduction day. The teacher evaluates your current level of communication that way.

You have to accept some responsibility for trying to maintain friendships when the classes end. As an introvert, that can be hard. That is almost a separate issue than the HA. We all face maintaining friendships with people we meet along the way.

EmJay1070's avatar

In almost everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been known as an effective communicator myself. I’m not shy, and am the first person to explain about my impairment. However, right now it just seems a bit unfair that it’s the hearing impaired who have to do all the work. That’s understandable, initially, but once it’s been explained to others, then it’s up to them to make the effort too. If they’re not willing to, then it’s a waste of time. Being HI, I get tired more quickly than my peers. What they take for granted I struggle with all the time. I can’t do all the work myself.
My problem with friendships is not just being introverted and HI, (though these are the main issues) but also due to not having much in common with my peers. I don’t have the typical lifestyle that they enjoy, so there’s not much to base a friendship on to begin with.
An example. In a former job, I was asked about my family by a colleague. When she heard that I’m an only child, without close living relatives, that was it – end of conversation. I have one true friend whom I’ve known for years, but we have similar backgrounds so we click.

linguaphile's avatar

Hi @EmJay1070—Linguaphile here. I am just now seeing this post, having been out of town for a while.

I am profoundly deaf and use sign language, so I can not really relate to your own experience. I’ve used sign language since I was 3, can speak very little, but still enjoy the friendship of people who can hear. I can offer what I know for you to take what you can.

As for how to improve your hearing, @hearkat and the others have given you good suggestions. That I can’t help with since I’m really satisfied, happy and comfortable as someone who chooses not to access sound.

My problem with sound is—I could go the route of trying to get some sound, trying to get distorted sound, working towards getting part of the whole and I, personally, would find that too frustrating and energy consuming. My mind and personality likes to have ALL of the information, and not knowing what I’m missing is aggravating. So, I prefer to live my life without sound and have designed my life in a way that the impact of sound is almost completely minimized. My life is full of activity, full of communication, I have friends, social circles, travel the world, am getting an advanced education, and rarely feel the lack of sound. I’d be lying if I said never feel the lack because I do cross paths with people who refuse to communicate but that’s true for everyone.

In public, I can speak enough to get by at restaurants and other contexts that occur frequently. However, in other public situations, I might refuse to speak—that means people who do not use sign language will most often immediately bypass any attempts to speak with me (thus reducing both of our frustrations) and go directly to writing or texting which are 100% accessible to both of us. That works for me.

I know quite a few people who are HI who chose to function as fully deaf in public situations because of the assumptions from people that they can hear/speak better than they can. Their experience has been this: by speaking just a little, the demands from hearing people increases exponentially, but by shaking their heads and writing, the demands from hearing people are minimized—they often are more willing to be patient when they understand that the speech/hearing channel is not available (literally or by choice). The SAME phenomenon exists when someone is in a wheel chair vs. when some one uses a cane to walk—more expectations to ‘measure up’ are put on the person using a cane. It’s just how humans are.

I do know for a fact that being HI can be far, far, far more difficult than being deaf. I hear that from my friends over and over. It’s difficult being not quite hearing, not quite deaf. It’s difficult being expected to do more than you’re capable of doing. The demands can be overwhelming and hurtful. People assume shouting solves the problem, and it can be embarrassing. How HI people deal with this challenge varies. I know one thing for sure – meeting other HI people and learning about shared experiences WILL help—nobody will understand you as well as other people with HI will. Ultimately, you’ll have to figure out what works for you.

Now, one thing I do have in common with you is that I am also an introvert. Even with 100% access through sign language, I do not like large groups. I get serious anxiety attacks in large groups, so prefer to have my own gatherings with few people. But, to find those people, I had to meet them. I met most of my friends through mutual experiences—theater, work, mutual friends, etc. I had to participate in something to meet these people.

What I can offer you is a list of options:
1. Find organizations for HI people—these groups might be able to lead you to social groups for HI people. You’re not going to find them walking on the street- hearing loss is invisible!
2. Go on online forums, like this one, to meet people and chat. This is a great equalizer for me- I love this place. It’s an introvert’s heaven :D
3. Experiment with the hearing devices the others offered you. They might help you access sound more, making it easier for you. That does work for a lot of people.
4. Meet HI people any way you can.
5. Learn sign language. It is a real language with its own structure, vocabulary and nuances and can be used to discuss any idea—I use sign language to discuss linguistics and neurological processing at university. It’s not too late to learn, and even if you don’t become fully fluent, it will open up an international-sized group of people for you to meet. Most important of all, it will also give you access to other HI people who have learned sign language, but function in both worlds easily, and who might become great friends.
6. Don’t give up. You deserve to meet your own needs, physically, mentally, emotionally AND socially.

EmJay1070's avatar

Hi @linguaphile and thank you for your detailed and intersting response. My own HI is sensori-neural in nature, so my HAs help a lot, but in certain situations, like in background noise for example, they’re not much use at all. I do have a portable loop system that I can wear round my neck, but it can be cumbersome at times, and I don’t really like being wired up to pieces of tech gear I have to carry round – I’m human and not a cyborg. And the loop would cause certain problems too, like, how to carry it without the cord getting caught on things. If I put it in a pocket or bag while it’s plugged in then the sound is horrible, so if I’m out anywhere, I only use it once I arrive at my destination – and even then, only if I will benefit from it. I remember I used it at my local community centre at a ‘hypnotists night’. It worked brilliant! Except I was seated at the back and heard other people chatting while the hypnotist was working. My fault that one – I should have sat nearer the front. But it was a useful learning experience.

What you say about ‘distorted sound’ if you were to go the sound route – I have a similar problem. My HAs will pick up the sounds my ears can still hear, but they won’t replace the hearing I’ve lost. Most hearing people don’t understand this – they think when I pop my aids in or plug in a piece of technical equipment that the problem is fixed. I’m between jobs right now, but my Work Programme advisor suggested that there exists equipment to help me to hear on the telephone. What she failed to understand (maybe I didn’t explain it to her very well) was that it won’t fix the problem. I still won’t be able to hear normally. And that my ears and brain need to acclimatise to the new sound and learn how to interpret this. There will always be sounds I cannot hear and on the phone, when I can’t use visual cues, and can’t control background noise or line quality or the callers phone technique the best tech in the world won’t really help much. However this is something I’d be willing to explore in more detail when I’m next looking for work.

I’ve had that experience of people expecting me to be able to do more than I’m cabable of too. It’s frustrating at times. They seem to think that because I’m intelligent and can communicate effectively that I’d be brilliant at certain jobs. But when I explain to them the reasons why I can’t, they think I’m not co-operating, or I’m objecting too much and not taking part in the Work Programme. My advisor in the previous Work Programme once threatened me with sanctioning my benefits. The reality was she hadn’t made the effort to understand things from the point of view of someone who was HI.

I have on ocassion functioned as deaf in public – usually in background noise, or if I had and ear infection which meant I couldn’t wear my HAs for a while. It’s much easier than constantly struggling to understand, and does prevent a lot of frustration on both sides.
Meeting othe HI people is difficult locally as I live in a village and not in or near a large city. There’s nothing locally specifically for the HI community. There are a few deaf clubs – for profoundly deaf.

I’ve tried to learn sign language before, but found it very difficult. It is a fascinating language, but for me personally, I found the pace of the classes too fast, and it’s difficult keeping up with everyone when I have to look down at a printed diagram while the intstructor is talking. I’d like to fully learn the first part before moving on to the next lesson, but this didn’t happen. I can’t learn it properly without someone to practice with between classes. That’s one problem with being and introvert and living on my own—I have to do everything myself, on my own, every time. So it’s harder to keep up with things at times. However, I do agree that an understanding of BSL would open up certain doors.

One thing that is not always understood by the hearing community is that being HI is tiring, as my brain has to work harder to figure out whats being said. In one sense being an introvert helps with this, as I can go home, remove my HAs and just relax for a while. I haven’t given up – and won’t. I’m thinking of re-training (I’m admin trained). I can still do all the typing stuff, but all of the office job adverts require some telephone work – and this kind of work is going to people half my age anyway. There’s far too much competition, that realistically my chances of working in admin now are very remote. However there’s lots of other things I could do – so I will give it some thought and choose something different as a career. What that will be, I don’t know yet, but there’s plenty of options – I just need to find them.

Once again, thank you for your response.

hearkat's avatar

I’ve found a few online resources for social networking and other support for those with hearing impairment. These sites may also have other links that you might find helpful.

http://www.hearinglikeme.com/

http://www.hearinglink.org/home

http://www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/

http://www.hearinglossnation.org/

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