My Not So Well-Laid Out Path
“I don’t believe that as a future professional I will know what’s best for each child I see.”
If you’re anything like me, true or false questions were always the worst part of a test. It’s rare that something is so black and white that it can be discussed in absolutes. The world is a spectrum of colors and trying to confine everything and everyone to just two options seems futile. For parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, the attempt to neatly define their child seems even more crucial: Will my child be a member of the Deaf or Hearing community? Use a spoken or visual language? These are valid questions that should be answered, but my question has always been, “Why can’t there be a combination of the options?”
As a child I had always had a fascination with American Sign Language (ASL) and a desire to be an interpreter, even before I could converse in the language. I finally began learning ASL my senior year in high school. While applying to colleges, I looked for programs that offered ASL in the curriculum. Cal State Northridge had a Deaf Studies program with a track for interpreting; it seemed perfect. Upon visiting the campus and a few others I became torn between doing what I wanted in a place I disliked or being in a place I liked and doing something on the outskirts of what I wanted. Should I attend Cal State Northridge and study Deaf Studies or Cal State Long Beach and study Communicative Disorders? Just like the true or false questions I hated, I had to make a decision between two options; one or the other – not both. I chose the latter, but a few months at Cal State Long Beach had me dissatisfied and thinking only of interpreting. It was in that moment that I realized a “life” decision doesn’t always have to be for life. In that moment, my well-laid out path became not so well-laid out.
I transferred to Cal State Northridge for my sophomore year and dove head first into Deaf Studies. During that time, I learned from classes and Deaf peers of the beauty in not just the language, but the community as well; of the obstacles they have overcome; of the fears they rally against; of the unspoken strength they yield. The year I was supposed to enter the interpreting cycle, complications arose that prevented me from continuing on that track. If I chose to continue with interpreting, the already five year program would turn into a six year program. It was a route I couldn’t justify taking and began looking into other careers to pursue.
Though Deaf culture throughout the United States is relatively the same, relationships with the hearing community varies from place to place. Being in Los Angeles, I was right in the middle of the heated tension between the Deaf and Hearing with extremists on both sides. While I love Deaf Studies, it became wearisome when we were lectured in almost every class about how hearing people were making terrible decisions for children with hearing loss: “Audiologists should be knowledgeable in Deaf culture…they are motivated by money, not the well being of the child…all children with hearing loss should learn ASL…audiology programs should incorporate Deaf Studies curriculum…”and more. While I did agree to an extent, there was always a voice in my head asking, “But what about in this or that scenario?”
On the other hand, there are audiologists who believe children with hearing loss should only be exposed to spoken language to maximize the auditory stimulus the child receives. There are others who believe whole-heartedly in amplification being the ultimate solution; that they know what’s best for everyone in the situation. And again, I agree to an extent, but what about the exception?
We all want change and we all want what’s best for the child, for the future, but how can we demand change without compromise and action? We can continue arguing and demanding our desires be met or we can learn to compromise and actively make that change ourselves a little at a time. Here it was: the career I had been searching for.
I don’t believe that every child with hearing loss should use amplification nor do I think they shouldn’t use amplification. I don’t believe that every child with hearing loss should learn only a spoken language nor do I believe they all should learn only a visual language. I don’t believe that as a future professional I will know what’s best for each child I see.
But here is what I do believe: when people look to me as the professional, it is my responsibility to withhold my personal opinions and provide them with all possible options. I believe that every child is different and what works for one may not work for another. I know that parents often have the best insight as to what suits their child and their family. I believe that every child should be given the best chance at success regardless of the manner in which they achieve it. I know that as we change, so may our decisions.
I don’t want to just be an audiologist or just an ally to the Deaf community; I want to be the bridge between them. My goal is to better the lives of children with hearing loss, the families who love them, and the communities which support them. My desire to help people, even in the smallest way, has driven me to this point and will provide me with the skills necessary to eventually enter this career. It is my hope that my love of both audiology and the Deaf community will enable me to utilize my knowledge purposefully and objectively.
Editor’s note: Brianna is an AuD Candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder