You Gotta Have Friends

Social situations are hard for people with CIs. They are going to be hard for Grace. We heard this so many times when she was young. Keeping up with conversations on playgrounds, in cafeterias, at noisy parties, is going to be an ongoing challenge for your kid. Understanding nuanced social cues may prove difficult. Taking part in rapid fire, overlapping multi-speaker conversations – especially among girls – may always be a problem for her. I heard stories of bullying. Or, at least of kids with CIs being cut out of conversations, and missing opportunities to make friends, when they didn’t seem to “get” what was going on.

This is what I was told – by teachers, the experts, other parents, audiologists, and researchers.

It was one more thing to kind of quietly worry about, and wait and see just how difficult it was going to be for Grace. The idea that despite her excellent language skills, her good lip-reading abilities, and her outgoing, social nature, the fact that she might struggle constantly to find her place in the social world was always in the back of my mind.

And yet, like so many of the obstacles we were promised Grace was likely to face, this one never seemed to materialize. No one bullied Grace. The birthday party invitations came. Grace made friends – lots of hearing friends and one close friend who is also deaf and uses CIs. She had help from her teachers and speech pathologists when she was young – if the classroom was too noisy during lunch, she could invite a friend or two to go eat with her in the hallway. The model at the River School was to quietly teach kids to advocate for themselves, to give them the tools they needed to strengthen their social skills. Even when she graduated from the small, nurturing environment at the River School, and moved to a public elementary school in 4th grade, she never seemed to struggle any more than any other kids do.

Grace is now thirteen, and I find myself thinking “be careful what you wish for.” Middle school can be such a tough place to be for anyone. Finding your place among a class of over four hundred noisy, whispering, fickle, pubescent humans leads to a notoriously difficult social environment. And yet, Grace has found her people. And there are a lot of them. In the morning getting ready, as soon as she walks in the door after school, at the dinner table, the near-constant Bzz-BZZZ of another text coming through on her phone is a constant reminder of just how well Grace appears to be navigating her social world. She tells me she is known to be good at giving advice about crushes (how did we get HERE already?!), mentions (so many!) girls I’ve never met who sit at her table during lunch. Last weekend I dropped her off at the Murder Mystery party she was invited to. She was assigned to be a character who dressed and acted like Taylor Swift. She walked confidently through the door at her friend’s house with her just-done hair and rock-star outfit, and was greeted immediately by three or four smiling friends.

The qualities she possesses that led her pediatrician to call her The Mayor when she was a year old – outgoing, engaging, focused in all ways on whoever she was interacting with – seem to continue working in her favor. She makes, and keeps, friends wherever she seems to go. Her deafness, her CIs, don’t seem to matter even the tiniest little bit.

Now if we can just get her to put her phone down during family game night…