Archive for May 31, 2017

Janet DesGeorges: Embrace the Past, Change the Future

May 31, 2017

Janet in boston
I am the mom of a beautiful, smart, talented accomplished well educated Deaf/Hard of Hearing daughter named Sara.

Eighteen years ago, I sat in a meeting hall at an ASL Deaf retreat where the entertainment one night was a group of Deaf individuals who performed a satirical skit about the ineptitude of hearing parents of Deaf children.

I said in my heart, “I am hearing, but I am Sara’s mother.”

Twelve years ago, I sat in a medical conference surrounded by hundreds of physicians who were listening to a passionate lecture on genetics and deafness. At the conclusion of the presentation, the Researcher stated, “…and the eradication of deafness is at hand”, which received a standing ovation.

I said in my heart, “my deaf daughter will not be eradicated.”

Ten years ago, I sat in an educational conference surrounded by thousands of special education directors in the audience, and every time the presenter used the term ‘parent’ she put the word ‘angry’ in front of it.

I said in my heart, “that is not how it has to be.”

In my work at Hands & Voices, every day I am surrounded by parents of children who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, where we share the journey of raising our children – who desperately need the support of D/HH individuals, medical professionals, and educators to help us ensure success.

But you must capture and know our hearts if you want to partner with us in this journey.

(I know what you are thinking right now… man, she sure goes to a lot of conferences…)

Of course those are not my only stories. My life experience is woven with a rich fabric of deaf individuals who have come along side me, have not judged me, have sometimes challenged me in a good way, and ultimately helped me to open the door to my heart to make decisions for my daughter based on her needs as a deaf child, and look beyond the filter of my life as a hearing person.

There have been audiologists and other professionals who have come along side our family and supported our choices and also made technology useful and functional in the real world for Sara, and given her the freedom to use her technology when and how she wanted to, and to be in control of that as she grew up.

There have been educators who have stood up and demanded educational excellence from my daughter, from her schools and not backed down when it came to her communication access, and also provided me with the tools to be effectively involved in her education.

The thousands of parents at Hands & Voices have their own stories that have framed their journey, and though I am the one up on the stage today, I carry their stories in my heart as well.
Regarding Deaf Education….

DEAF education/deaf EDUCATION

I met a deaf educator who left the field of deaf education to immerse herself in traditional and new models of education for all students and came out the other end telling me that we must never minimize either of the words when talking about DEAF EDUCATION. We must never dissect these two aspects apart from one another. Yes our kids are Deaf (and this includes kids who are hard of hearing) AND yes, our kids need an education. Let’s call it: Deaf Education.

Not just the what, but the how.

It’s not just about what we know or don’t know about Deaf Education. It’s not just about communication, language, literacy, and social/emotional development of Deaf children. We must now advocate for these things in a system and a world where it’s not often understood.

But when it works well, it can be brilliant.

Here is one tiny snippet of one tiny issue during one tiny piece of a 13 year old’s day at school. A mom went to the school and said that she had been arguing with her daughter about homework every night. Her daughter said she didn’t have any. Was this a communication access thing? Was it a teenage thing? Was it a school thing?

It got worked out…

Every day, the teacher in the classroom, when announcing homework assignments said it both verbally, making sure she was facing the student (who used an FM system and lipread), and also then turned and wrote it on the board to provide visual accommodation. The student could also turn and look at the sign language interpreter who was also there for her. The special education specialist in the school had arranged with the general education teachers that homework assignments would come to him and then also be posted for parents to have access to, so that they could check in with the student and help with any homework as necessary.

When all team members are pulling together, access happens!

The Power Seat of Advocacy

I’ll always remember the father who called and asked if I could come to the IEP for their son. I knew this Dad, he was a high powered attorney. He told me that he had never been into a meeting like IEP meetings where he felt so discounted in what he had to say.

Even if the law provides for parents to be at the table we must continue to create a future where true collaboration exists, and where meeting the needs of deaf child is not something to be negotiated by teams who all have different motivations for what the outcome might be (fiscal, methodological, lack of information) but be based on that child’s needs, as an individual who is unique. We must continue to create this in our educational system and to have hope that this can be accomplished.
Parent Advocacy

One day I was in the mountains of Colorado and the sun was setting in a beautiful grove of Aspen trees. My husband is a professional photographer so I barely ever take pictures, but I was alone, so decided I would take a picture of this beautiful scene. As I was standing there, I thought, “I think I’ll do a selfie with me in front of the trees.” I don’t do selfies very often, so I kept trying to figure out how to hold the camera, press the button, and get both myself and the trees in the photo, while still trying to capture the beautiful light in that moment. As I was juggling the camera, at the very last moment, I remembered my friend had told me that if you take a selfie looking down on yourself from above, you look thinner, so I held the camera up high, and then took the shot.
Here it is:

janet selfie

When I think about the power of parents, parent engagement, parent advocacy, parents whatever…ruling the world – I think of this photo.
If we as parents forget what the point of all this is…. In this case our children who are D/HH – it’s not about ourselves as parents – we will miss our goal. Beautiful, light filled successful children. We do not need to put ourselves in the middle of the picture. We want to stay clear on whose ultimate journey this is. But as Parents – we are the holders of the camera, we are the photographers in our children’s lives, we are the ones with the right and ultimate responsibility to frame the picture and ensure a good photograph. But we could use your help (educators, health professionals, Deaf and Hard of Hearing adults) in framing the photo and knowing how to use the camera.

I challenge you today

I challenge you. Whether you are a Deaf individual, a researcher, a teacher/educator, a medical professional – don’t forget that the point of all this is not about you, just like it’s not about me….it’s about our kids, each one individual and unique.

If you commit to doing that, so will I, and so will all parents who only at the end of the day want their kids to succeed. But if we stay separated as we have done over the centuries, I don’t know, truly if there is any hope.

I am not a Pollyanna, I know that we will not all agree in this room and/or across organizations and systems. Ghandi said, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress” But we have no hope if we only focus on our own selves. I am so enheartened by movements right now in the field like the Common Ground project and the Radical Middle, and of course…Hands & Voices.
We must stand together…

I am learning that everyone has a story and is a human being behind their ‘role’ in this conversation. We often come together in rooms where we do not stop to listen and reflect on different perspectives in deaf education – and partly because we do not view one another as human beings with respect. I know that the history of deaf education over the past 200 years has been played out with passionate forces each clamoring for their stake in education of Deaf children. The stories I shared with you at the beginning of this presentation are my stories, and I know each one of you brings your own story to this conversation, and I thank you for it. I carry in my heart those who have come before us to make a path for my daughter today. – whether they communicated like my daughter does today or not. I am grateful for those in this world who are passionate and fight to keep the path for all our kids.

sara and Janet

I am a mom of a beautiful smart talented accomplished well educated Deaf/Hard of Hearing daughter named Sara. Does she speak or does she sign? Does she use both or not? Why does that matter? For my daughter or for any of our daughters or sons who are successful human beings in this world. Yes – we must all stand together to help our children attain success through one means or another, but the light on the trees must be successful outcomes for ALL kids, not the means by which we achieved it.

By Janet DesGeorges

(This speech was given by Janet DesGeorges, Executive Director of Hands & Voices at The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program Presentation Thriving Together Friday, May 5, 2017 Boston Children’s Hospital.)

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Savannah: My Deaf Journey

May 30, 2017

aid photo

Hey!

My name is Savannah. I am a hard of hearing high schooler, and I use a cochlear implant and a hearing aid to help me in my everyday activities.

From birth, I was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in my left ear and moderate hearing loss in my right. I have always known that I was deaf, and this has been a fact of life for me.

My first memories of using technology were in pre-school. I wore an FM receiver in my right ear and the teacher would wear an FM transmitter. Now, this transmitter looked quite different than the transmitters commonly used today. It was a large box, clipped to their hip, with a thin cord running up their chest and a tiny microphone attached to their shirt collar.

My kindergarten teacher named it “Tina the Transmitter.”

I used my receiver, complete with a bright pink mold, all the time. My mother would tape it to my ear during karate practice, so I could punch, kick, and hear while feeling secure.

Then, in first grade, I got my first hearing aid. It had a giraffe pattern on it and I loved it. So much so that my mother fought tooth and nail for my audiologist to allow me to get one in my left ear.

Why was this an issue, you ask? Hearing aids amplify sound and sends the waves through your cochlea and to the auditory nerve. But my left ear, audiologists said, wouldn’t be able to pick up the amplified sound, and would therefore be a waste of time. Nevertheless, we persisted, and a few months later I had bilateral hearing aids.

Throughout my elementary years, my parents would sometimes ask me if I wanted a cochlear implant in my left ear. I would adamantly refuse – saying I didn’t want to be deaf but rather hard of hearing.

In seventh grade, my tune changed. Middle school brought new challenges and new experiences. I began debating the pros and cons of a cochlear implant. I still used my hearing aids as well as a newer version of an FM transmitter.

The summer before eighth grade, I got the surgery. It was such a rewarding experience. While I was definitely scared going into the operating room, that fear dissolved quickly. I knew that I had made the right decision.

Master ear

Being turned on was really interesting. There were all these new gadgets and computer programs that controlled my head! My hearing rapidly improved from initial beeps to normal sound. While aural therapy was boring, it was worth every second to be able to hear new and exciting sounds. I learned a lot about sound booths and frequencies in that year!

Finally, I reached high school, where I use Cochlear’s Mini Microphone as an alternative to the transmitter I had once needed. Today, I am able to hold conversations at lunch and collaborate with classmates using this technology.

Being deaf is an important identity to me. I have changed a lot since the days when I rejected the very idea of getting implanted. While I may not understand everything people say to me, I can hear much, much more than I ever realized I could.

An interesting thing about being deaf/hard of hearing and using technology is that you live on the border between the deaf and hearing worlds. I really enjoy explaining to hearing people about my ears and my needs, and hopefully educating more people about my community and myself. But being on the border of my two worlds mean that my “people,” so to speak, are a select group of individuals. While I do try hard to connect with my deaf identity (learning ASL and deaf culture), and I try and integrate into hearing culture everyday, I have come to realize that my world is the border.

Being deaf is challenging. I have to deal with projects involving music and with watching videos without subtitles and with bad audio. Yet being deaf is rewarding as well! I have the ability to share with people my stories and spread awareness for deaf/hard of hearing people.

mydeafjourney2

I even created an Instagram account, @mydeafjourney, that I use to share my everyday experiences with deaf and hearing people alike!

So, if I had the chance to stop being deaf, I wouldn’t take it.

Being deaf is who I am. And I don’t want to erase my identity.

<3 Savannah

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Alyssa Pecorino: There’s No Place Like Camp

May 17, 2017

alyssa at deaf camp

 

 

It’s the end of June.  School has let out and it’s time to enjoy the summer.  Mom and Dad are helping me pack my things for two weeks away at summer camp.  I have never been to camp before and I’m excited to try something new, yet I’m nervous about who I’m going to meet.  

Will I be able to understand them?  

Will they understand me?  

Being a 10 year old, oral, mainstreamed, hard of hearing child, I was never exposed to Deaf culture or American Sign Language.  All I had was the knowledge from Linda Bove of Sesame Street’s sign language book and the occasional commercial or blurb on television featuring Deaf people.  

What was this deaf camp going to be like?  I have a hard enough time understanding people who speak, now I’m going to immerse myself into another language and get introduced to a whole new community.  No pressure there, right?

Moreover, how did we get to this point?  

Like most parents, my mother researched what she could (before the internet and Google) and got advice from everyone including her younger sister, who is a highly regarded speech pathologist on Long Island.  My aunt made her point clear: yes, your child is succeeding orally and using what she has in a mainstream setting, but socially she’s falling behind.  You need to send her to a camp for Deaf and hard of hearing children so she can develop her identity and learn all those wonderful things we don’t learn in school.  The education that children get from camp is just as valuable as a formal education setting, if not more.  This is how my parents came across Camp Isola Bella in Salisbury, Connecticut.

Camp Isola Bella is the oldest and longest running camp for Deaf and Hard of Hearing children in the country.  It’s a picturesque island in the middle of Twin Lakes in Salisbury.  This camp beckons Deaf and Hard of hearing children from all over the world to come enjoy their program and develop their identities.  I was fortunate to be one of them from 1988 to 1993.  Little did I know that the nervous child my parents dropped off would grow to be a confident young teenager just from two weeks in the summer.  I went from crying every night to laughing every day and eventually helping new campers acclimate.  My crying wasn’t from how people treated me, but rather from me adjusting to a new environment and preparing to reveal my new identity.  The caterpillar was becoming a butterfly and this is a dramatic change that was bound to shed a few tears.  Besides, as I wrote to my mother that first week, it’s okay to cry because none of the other campers could hear me anyway.  :o)

IMG_2974

 

Let’s fast forward to June 2000.  I’m now 21 years of age and more excited than ever to go back to camp.  It was the only place I truly felt happy and free to be myself.  This time, I was going back as a camp counselor and newly-certified lifeguard.  Every fiber of my being is anticipating a wonderful summer where I finally get to give back to the camp that gave me my identity and a community to belong to. I couldn’t wait to welcome those first timers to camp, especially those who are in the same shoes that I was in back in 1988.  In my mind I was only going to do this for a summer or two before getting a full-time job.  After all, how could I possibly be able to make my schedule work to be able to work here in the summers? Could I be lucky enough to be able to do this for more than one summer?  

 

Fast forward to today: it’s now my 18th summer at Camp Isola Bella.  I went from being a teacher’s aide at various schools on Long Island to a teacher in both New York and Connecticut to an administrator at the American School for the Deaf.  I worked my way up from counselor to Camp Director and I have no intention of leaving any time soon.  When you find a place that isn’t a job but rather a passion that requires you to pinch yourself to believe you are lucky enough to be working there, you don’t leave.  Seeing new and old campers come every summer to a place where they are free to be themselves, learn the meaning of resilience and develop their identity–that is a place to be cherished.  It’s awesome–which is why our theme this summer is “Believe in *A.W.E.S.O.M.E.!”, which stands for Adventurous World of Experience with Signing Opportunities and Meaningful Education.

IMG_2468

Let me just share one story with you before I wrap up this article.  Many parents are not only concerned about sending their children away from home, but also hesitant that their child will thrive in an environment that doesn’t use technology.  Yes, that’s right, most camps don’t allow phones, iPads, laptops, etc.  We’re one of them.  We had a young teenager come a few years ago who was anxious being away from home for the first time, but not only that, she was upset there was no television or wi-fi.  After a few days, she adjusted and soon forgot about the lack of technology and focused more on being with people and making friends. She came back the next year and admitted she wasn’t looking forward to being without her TV again, but enjoyed the program and that helped a little with the anxiety.  She was adamant that she MUST have TV and looked forward to getting it back when camp was over.  Naturally we all chuckled and quickly we forgot about the technology again.  

Finally, during her third year, I walked down to the waterfront where all the campers were lined up to do the swim test and I gave her a warm hug and welcome back to camp.  I teased her and asked if she missed her TV.  Without skipping a beat, she opened her arms as if to show off the island and waterfront and exclaimed:  “THIS is my television!”  

I immediately welled up and gave her the biggest hug I could muster.  THIS is my reason for working at the greatest place in the world.  There is no place like camp.

If you haven’t already, please consider sending your child to camp.  It doesn’t have to be at Camp Isola Bella, but can be at any one of the many camps for Deaf and hard of hearing children around the country.  As I mentioned above, it’s an invaluable experience for any child, but more so for those of us in the Deaf and hard of hearing community.

Alyssa Pecorino, M.S.

Questions about sending your child to camp? You can reach me at Alyssa.Pecorino@asd-1817.org

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Why My Child Would Not Wear his Cochlear Implants

May 15, 2017

lost-processor

 

Why won’t my child wear his cochlear implants?

As parents of a child with cochlear implants, the answer to this question shocked us and made us feel as if we were torturing our child.

Our child was first implanted at about a year old and was seeing an Auditory Verbal Therapist (AVT) on a weekly basis.  Our son could definitively hear with his implant and responded well after activation.  As the weeks went on, our therapist would tell us that our son was not hearing certain vowels or consonants sounds and recommended we see our audiologist to have his map adjusted.

We went to our audiologist and told her that the AVT said our son was not hearing the /p/ or /s/ sound (for example).  The audiologist plugged our son’s processor up to the computer and began saying /ba/, /ba/, /ba/ over and over at different voice levels watching to see how our son responded then she would make changes to the map.

We made this trip to the audiologist constantly over several months because the AVT kept telling us that our son was not hearing different vowels and consonant sounds.   We were remapping our son’s processor so often that we were starting to hear /ba/, /ba/, ba/ in our sleep. Then one day, our son just refused to wear his processor.  He would throw off the headpiece as fast as we stuck it back on his head.  Unfortunately, He didn’t have the language ability to tell us why he wouldn’t wear the processor.  Our AVT suggested we go back to see the audiologist to check the equipment to make sure it was working properly.

We set-up an appointment with the audiologist and she brought in a representative from the manufacturer to help go through diagnostics of the equipment to see if anything was wrong.  After a thorough review, everything seemed to checkout.  Sadly, our son still refused to wear his cochlear implant processor.  Our audiologist’s recommended that we do our best to keep his headpiece on at all times, maybe use a headband, noting that maybe this was more of a behavioral issue.

Over the next couple of weeks, we did our best to keep our son’s headpiece on, but he wouldn’t have it. The AVT was starting to have problems working with our son.  He started to have new behaviors and was not responding to therapy. We were feeling that something was wrong with our child other than hearing loss.

Eventually, our AVT recommended we see another audiologist to get a second opinion about our son’s equipment and map.  She sent us to an audiologist who is an expert working with cochlear implant pediatric patients.  This new audiologist was known for fixing issues children may be having with their implants.

Mapping Sounds

I remember how distraught my wife and I were as we shared our story with the new audiologist and showed her how our son was resisting wearing his processor.  She assured us that she would look at everything and see what she could do to help.  After running diagnostics, the audiologist turned to us and said, “There’s nothing wrong with your child or his equipment.”  After a massive sigh of relief, the audiologist told us our son’s map was over-stimulating and probably the main reason why he is resisting wearing his processor.

The audiologist used the analogy of driving through the mountains with the radio volume turned all the way up with bad receptions. “That’s how your son’s processor is mapped,” she told us.  She couldn’t blame him for not wanting to wear it.

We felt horrible, as if we had tortured our child for weeks trying to make him wear his headpiece all the time.

What happened next truly shocked us.  This new audiologist began mapping our son using different consonant and vowels sounds, no more /ba/, /ba/, /ba/.  With her partner, they elicited responses from our son using different vowel consonant sounds like /s/, /oo/, /ah/, /p/, /t/ etc.  After they were done, our son seemed very happy and joyous about the sounds around him.  From that moment on, our son never had a problem wearing his processor again.

I share this story because too often I hear similar stories and the recommendation to the parents is always try to keep your child’s processors on.  A behavior, such as refusing to wear a processor, is generally a symptom of a problem that a child can’t necessarily express. A behavior becomes the only way to communicate.  If your child is refusing to wear their processor(s), find out why.  Your child might not like the feel on their ear or the magnet strength is to strong, etc.  If the physical comfort of the processor is not the problem, check with your audiologist about the equipment and map.  If you walk out of your audiologist office and they have not resolved the issue, get a second opinion.

Don’t torture your child like we did by making them wear a poorly mapped processor.  Every day, when putting on your child’s device, do a simple check to see if your child can repeat or respond to different speech sounds or words.   If you feel there is a problem, talk to your speech or AVT therapist at your next visit or schedule an appointment with your audiologist.   Finally, if your audiologist doesn’t map your child using different speech sounds, it might be time to find a new audiologist.

More about the author

Eric Sherman is the inventor and founder of Ci Wear, the patented specialty shirt designed to secure and protect cochlear implant processors. Ideal for sports and water activities. No need for added accessories or clipping processors to collar. Shirts are manufactured in the USA and are available in youth and adult sizes at CIWear.com

 

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Camps for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

May 5, 2017

IMG_5612

Aspen Camp

Aspen, Colorado.

http://www.aspencamp.org/

Bill Rice Ranch Bible Camp

Murfreesboro, Tennesee

http://www.billriceranch.org/deaf-ministries/deaf-camp

California Hands & Voices Family Camp

Julian, California

http://cahandsandvoices.org/index.php/dhh-family-camp/southern/

Camp Discovery

Western Pennysylvania

Camp Discovery 2017!

Camp Endeavor

Dundee, Florida

http://www.sertomacampendeavor.net/

Camp Juliena

LaGrange, Georgia

Georgia Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Camp Mark Seven

Old Forge, New York

http://www.campmark7.org/

Camp Isola Bella

Taconic, Connecticut

http://www.asd-1817.org/page.cfm?p=479

Clarke’s Summer Adventure

Easthampton, Massachusetts
https://www.clarkeschools.org/summeradventure

Deaf Camps, Inc.

Knoxville, Maryland

https://deafcampsinc.wordpress.com/

Deaf Film Camp

Old Forge, New York

http://www.deaffilmcamp.com/

Indiana Deaf Camp

Warsaw, Indiana

http://indeafcamps.org/

John Tracy Clinic Family Sessions

Los Angeles, California

Summer Sessions for Families

Lions Wilderness Camp

Wrightwood and Nevada City, California

lionswildcamp.org

 

OYO Camp

Perrysville, Ohio

http://www.oyocampnuhop.org/

 

Space Camp

Huntsville, Alabama

http://www.spacecamp.com/space/weeklong

Wisconsin Lions Camp

Rosholt, Wisconsin

www.wisconsinlionscamp.com

  If you know of other camps for deaf and hard of hearing children, email us the information and a link:  karen@handsandvoices.org
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