What I learned about hearing during the pandemic

Children with hearing loss learn to listen during the pandemic

As is true for most people, I have a number of “hats” that I wear in my personal and professional life. For me, both hearing loss and hearing technology innovations have greatly influenced my life choices. My name is Elaine/Ayala Tal-El. I am the mother of two (adult) children who have cochlear implants. I myself have a moderate hearing loss, for which I wear hearing aids. In my professional life, I am the executive director of AV Israel, a program that is dedicated to helping children with hearing loss learn spoken language through listening. Coping with challenges has been keeping me quite busy for some time, and the past few months of the corona pandemic have been no exception.

While “Corona” has most certainly affected everyone the world over, it has also brought to light the way in which people with hearing loss are affected. The closure of offices, shops and of direct face to face interaction has presented some real challenges. It has necessitated learning the use of new distance technology to better plan, place orders, hold meetings and make appointments. Wearing masks has proven to be particularly challenging – and not just for people with hearing loss. Many people (including those with typical hearing) did not realize how much we rely on visual cues and lip-reading for information. Research shows that the quality of sound is compromised by the mask which distorts the auditory cue. Masks have also made wearing hearing aids precarious — I, myself, once lost one of my hearing aids temporarily, while removing my mask.

Of course, challenges invite coping, which can be positive and gratifying. I would like to share a few encouraging and heartwarming stories with you. At the beginning of the corona pandemic, I received a note from a mom who reported how well her daughter with a profound hearing loss is managing in her kindergarten program, despite the masks that her kindergarten teacher wears. Another child, H., who was profoundly deaf, was successfully understanding and participating in all of the activities in the preschool program. Her mom reported that she was feeling very much like all of the other children.

When the pandemic broke out in March, and children — with their entire families — were home from school and prevented from congregating with others to stave off infection, many parents had to switch to online tele-therapies. Those families in which the parents learned skills by participating in their children’s therapy sessions and the children developed excellent listening skills were successful in the switch from face to face to online therapy. At L.’s home, the family prepared all of the ingredients for making a salad and through an online session, L. told of the carrots she was cutting, the knife that was needed — and all under the guidance of the therapist on the screen. With Moishe, his language improved to age level thanks to the amazing and meaningful auditory experiences he had in therapy and at home. Moishe’s mother, with the guidance of their therapist, encouraged him to perform plays, sing songs and enjoy the world of sound just like other children do.

We have all learned so much these past months. We have been forced to be flexible, to move with the punches, to pivot our practice, to be creative. We have learned to appreciate our friends and loved ones even more than before. We have sought out ways to support each other and express solidarity despite the limitations.

For those of us who work with children with hearing loss, the past months have challenged our practices. How can children with hearing loss continue to thrive in such irregular times when the service programs can no longer function as before? For many hearing challenged children and their families, the period of the coronavirus has only strengthened the resolve that learning language through listening is not only possible, but preferable. One could say that therapy can be “pandemic friendly”.

About the Author
Elaine Matlow Tal-El was born in Toronto and made aliyah in 1980. Married to Eli, an Israeli-born filmmaker, they are parents of four daughters, the youngest of whom were born deaf. Dedicated to helping their children fulfill their dreams and potentials, Elaine and Eli, along with another family of olim, established AVIsrael (1994), an NGO, whose purpose is to make the AV (auditory-verbal) approach accessible to all children with hearing loss in Israel to learn normative speech and language and thrive in the hearing world.
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