Sometimes a mother can be your biggest advocate. That is the case for Heather Thomson, who unexpectedly found herself as the mother of a young son with hearing loss.
Heather Thomson wears many hats, mother of two, wife, inventor, designer, entrepreneur, podcaster, philanthropist, performer, speaker, athlete, licensed health and wellness coach. For many, she is an adored reality star, staking her claim to fame from her years on the hit Bravo reality series, The Real Housewives of New York City.
But what many people don’t know is that she also has a personal relationship with hearing loss through her son Jax. Jax is now 17 and Heather has decided to use her star power to help raise awareness and to share what she has learned about parenting a child with hearing loss with others in the same situation.
I had the opportunity to interview her recently for This Week in Hearing, Hearing Health & Technology Matters’ podcast. It was a fun conversation, especially since I am a big fan from her time on the Real Housewives of New York City.
Below I share some of the highlights. Watch the full captioned interview here.
Advocacy Needs Change Over Time
Getting a diagnosis can be the first challenge. Jax was born with several health problems, so it took some time before his hearing loss was recognized and treated. Focused on Jax’s other health issues, both the pediatrician and the family missed it, as any speech delays were assumed to be related to other conditions. This is common, especially in families with no history of hearing loss.
Heather’s advice—trust your instincts. If you believe your child needs to be evaluated for hearing loss, push for it. And if you don’t like the first doctor or audiologist you see, find someone else. A strong partnership with your child’s support team is critical.
As Jax entered school, additional advocacy was needed to make sure he was getting the communication assistance that he needed in the classroom. Jax’s audiologist recommended a variety of listening systems and other interventions which helped Jax learn along with the rest of the class. Creating strong relationships with your child’s teachers, and school administrators is key, but so is vigilance. Each year, teachers change, and the education process begins again.
Teach Your Child to Advocate for Himself
Now that Jax is 17 and may soon be away from home for college, Heather is working to pass more of the advocacy responsibility to Jax. Preparing him for this moment has taken a lifetime.
Heather has always encouraged Jax to be open and honest about his hearing loss and to let people know when he doesn’t hear them. She taught him to switch seats when he needs to or move to the front of a space to get a better vantage point for lipreading.
Her philosophy—you can either hang back and be overlooked or get in there and get what you need. She has always encouraged him to do the latter—an important message since Jax will be advocating for his communication needs his entire life.
Forgive Yourself for Not Understanding
Even as a strong advocate for Jax, there are times where Heather admits, it is hard for her to understand exactly what he is going through. For example, one morning Jax and Heather were in the kitchen. The water was running and she began speaking to him from behind.
She said something. Then repeated it. And then she got annoyed—assuming it was a case of her teenager ignoring her (they do that sometimes!). But it turned out that he just had not heard her. It is difficult for people using hearing aids to hear someone who is behind them—especially if there is loud background noise coming from a nearby faucet!
Heather’s tip—forgive yourself for not knowing what it is like to live with hearing loss. It’s not possible unless you have it yourself. But learn as much as you can. It builds empathy and understanding, and it helps you better advocate for your child.
Heather’s Advocacy Continues
It was a pleasure to hear Jax’s story and to learn about Heather’s committed advocacy for his needs. Now she wants to raise awareness more broadly. Her key messages—get your hearing tested and if you have a hearing loss, embrace technology fixes like hearing aids. They were miracle devices for Jax.
The more we learn, the better advocates we can all be for the almost 50 million Americans and 430 million people worldwide with debilitating hearing loss.
Readers, what advice do you have for parents of children with hearing loss?