Gael Hannan: Hearing hints at Halloween

By Gael Hannan

Halloween can be scary for kids with hearing loss. 

I know this because, a long time ago, I was a kid with hearing loss and I still remember the stress that was mixed in with the fun of costumes, parties, classroom parades, and trick-or-treating.

While other countries have similar events at the end of October and early November, the Halloween of North America which spins mainly on costumes and candy grew out of the old Irish festival of Samhain which involves feasting, bonfires, and dressing up. The name Samhain means the end of the light half of the year. This makes sense because after Halloween on the 31st of October, it starts getting dark really early – and that was my problem. 

People with hearing loss don’t do dark. We’re like poppy flowers that perk up when the sun comes out and close up in low light. In darkness, people like me have difficulty identifying noises or pinpointing where they’re coming from. Our speech discrimination plummets in the dark.

When I was a child, everyone wore Halloween masks to show that we were now princesses, ghosts, devils, pirates, or whatever. Not only were these masks uncomfortable to wear (the eyeholes made it tough to see, the elastic hurt your head, and the inside got steam-sticky with your breath), a hard of hearing kid like me found it almost impossible to understand what the people in the other masks were saying. I just decided the pirate mask was saying something like ahoy, shiver me timbers and the ghost was going boo, I’m a scary ghost.

So, I just did what people with hearing loss (of all ages do); I copied the hearing kids, which was mainly just screaming and running around because it was party time!

Going trick or treating was also a problem. It didn’t matter whether my friends wore masks or face paint or the au naturel look, it was dark. When I was little, my parents waited at the end of driveways while we went up to the neighbors’ front doors. When they opened, a nice lady or man would say something which I seldom understood because the hall lights behind them turned them into huge dark monsters. I quickly learned to say nothing, hold out my bag for candy, and make a fast retreat.

When our son was old enough to trick-or-treat, my husband took him out while I stayed home and handed out candy. My porch light was on so I could clearly see the trick or treaters, and just in case there was a child with hearing loss in the group of ninjas or princesses, I made sure the children could see my face too.

I think it’s better today. Kids tend to use face paint rather than masks, which makes it easier to speechread them. In the small town where I live, our short main street closes down at 5pm for the fun. There’s music and the store owners pass out candy to the costumed crowd, which includes both kids and their parents. Because it’s still light out, everyone can see everyone and there’s no danger. The kids are happy and so are their moms and dads.  

As a parent, it’s always a balancing act between letting your child have fun with the rest of the kids and keeping them safe. We want to make sure children with hearing loss can understand environmental noises and people’s voices when they are out trick-or-treating:

  • If you’re not accompanying your child, make sure they go with a buddy or a small group. 
  • Flashlights can help identify sounds and hazards along the trick-or-treat route but small ones need reminding not to shine them in someone’s face (especially that of the child with hearing loss). 
  • Noisy environments are uncomfortable. It affects the child’s ability to understand speech because hearing aids and sound processors, in trying to do their job, make the loud noise even noisier. And for the good hearing of everybody, avoid firecrackers and other fireworks. 
  • Costumes should adapt to the child’s hearing technology, so that hearing aids or processors aren’t knocked off or in danger of absorbing glue or glitter. 

A final bit of advice: Make sure you ask permission from your child to loot their candy bag. My son caught me picking out all his Rockets for myself. He told me that stealing isn’t nice – all I had to do was ask. And for the next few years, Joel always gave me his Rockets.

Happy Halloween and happy All Saints’ Day, or whatever special day you are celebrating this year. Be safe.