In her article “Keeping Molehills From Becoming Mountains—Understanding & Supporting Teen Students with Hearing Loss,” Cheryl DeConde Johnson, EdD, addresses a multitude of issues relating to teenagers with hearing loss. To keep molehills from becoming mountains, she says, one must recognize that teenagers and hearing loss are two separate, unique, and complex issues. However, if left un-checked, these two issues can cause tremendous negative, synergistic problems. Parents, teachers, and audiologists need to teach teens how to be their own advocates so they can request the right technology at the right time to communicate maximally.
Dr. DeConde-Johnson noted that teens are dynamic, they exist on a roller coaster traversing the entire emotional spectrum from “leave me alone” to “pay attention to me.” Notably, hearing-impaired teens usually are best equipped to manage their worlds if their hearing loss was effectively managed and accepted at an earlier age. Whenever possible, it's best to teach pre-teens to recognize and accept their hearing loss as part of who they are as individuals, while empowering their self-identity and personal development. If children recognize and are comfortable with their hearing loss as pre-teens, their parents can help them succeed through their teenage years while allowing hearing loss and amplification issues to be addressed as separate concerns.
Dr. DeConde-Johnson further points out that audiologists must recognize that teens have a strong desire to fit in with their peers and colleagues. In fact, fitting in is of monumental importance to teens and can be a dominant (positive or negative) force in their lives. Accordingly, teens do not want to be known for their hearing loss or hearing aids. The hearing-impaired teenager who seeks additional help separates him/herself from his/her peers and colleagues. Therefore, it takes an unusually courageous teenager to request additional help (better lighting, captioning, better seating, FM, note-takers, etc.). The teenage years, especially the first 2 years of high school, are a challenging and volatile time, and the teenager who successfully advocates for him/herself in an appropriate manner is to be praised. Audiologists have a unique responsibility to make sure the teenager patient has knowledge of the many communication tools available to maximally communicate across all acoustic environments and to help separate hearing loss and hearing aid issues from teenage issues.
Whenever possible, the audiologist, parents, and teachers should strive to achieve a “win-win” situation regarding hearing loss and the teenage years. The young person who understands, accepts, and takes ownership of a hearing loss in the pre-teen years is much more likely to keep hearing issues from becoming entangled in teen issues later and is more likely to be an effective self-advocate.
If teenagers can maximally communicate with their peers and colleagues, they will look less different (i.e., they will fit in). In other words, communication (e-mail, IM, cell phones, etc.) is the teenage norm. When hearing loss is effectively managed through multiple amplification methods (hearing aids, FM, etc.) communication is enhanced.
Importantly, the inability to communicate is what separates teens from their peers and colleagues—not hearing aids!