Archive for the ‘Hands & Voices’ Category

Finding the Balance ~ Helen Cotton Leiser

March 5, 2014

helen and kids

The Hands & Voices annual Leadership Conference is always my safe haven. One year’s theme, “Finding the Balance Within” was exactly what I needed. In my role with Hands &Voices, I have spoken to over 200 moms around Oregon.  I have seen marriages stressed, mothers feeling overwhelmed and siblings trying to figure out where they fit in with all the appointments and worry associated with having a sibling with hearing loss.

Studies show that 95% of parents of deaf/hard of hearing children have no history or experience with hearing loss. Having a newborn in itself can be stressful. When your newborn is diagnosed with hearing loss or deaf+, the diagnosis can challenge many areas of your life and create a strain on relationships, marriages, and can send parents spiraling in all directions as they face this new reality.

Parents of school aged kiddos face their own levels of stressors as they ensure the educational and  emotional health of their child. I know three sets of parents who have had to leave Oregon to find the right school for their child.

Have more fun… it’s what I have been telling myself for the last 8 months, and what I heard in the opening plenery of the Leadership Conference. I know I need to pick up my camera and do what I love to do. I know I need to spend more time with my friends. I see that many of us parents are not feeding our souls; we are not having fun.

Getting back to who we are, not our labels, not our IEP challenges; but who we are, our being. It’s really hard to have fun and be ourselves, especially in the beginning of the process. I have spoken with parents of school aged kiddos who feel if they let their guard down or relax for one moment, their child’s communication will falter, their school life could suffer or their emotional well-being will dwindle.

We forget that if we don’t take care of ourselves first, if we don’t get back to who we are, the individual within, we won’t have what we need to advocate and support our child. We also forget to ask for help. Our Guide By Your Side program and chapters are here to assist you in supporting your child in school, at home, and on the playground! Those of you new to the process don’t know what you should know and you certainly don’t know where you need help. Parents of school-aged kiddos have been attending IEP meetings for awhile and may not consider the benefits of having someone else at the table or just having another (trained) parent to talk to.

What do you need that you don’t have? What would a balanced life look like to you? How do you feel when you lay down at night? If you don’t know then tonight when you go to bed take a deep breath and listen. That is your authentic feeling. Do you need to make any changes?!

So as spring slowly approached and the days lengthen, we hope that you also slow down, set aside your worries and challenges and enjoy the warmth of the sun that is just around the corner! Watching kids play outside and in the pool is a great reminder to get a little more ‘child-like’ and have fun. So do that. Go jump in a pool, run through some sprinklers, lay in the grass looking up at the stars, and eat a smore.  It’s time for all of us to recharge and remember that we are parents first; parents to kids who just want to be kids.



Letting go with trust ~ Helen Cotton Leiser

February 19, 2014

We were dropping Ashlin off at college. We walked into her dorm room to find that it had been entirely decorated by her roommate. I was dumbfounded. I asked the roommate, a pretty young brunette with lots of energy why she decorated the entire room without Ashlin. “She’s deaf. I didn’t think she’d mind”, she retorted. My mind whirled. I won’t tell you how this dream/nightmare ended, but I did wake up sweating and breathing heavy; worried beyond belief. Should I go to the dean of students if this happens, I wondered. This is a form of bullying. Who do you do to at the college level? What does the Dean of Students do anyway?!
My heart ached most of the day. How am I going to protect her? How is she going to protect herself? What if her dorm mates play a prank on her in the middle of the night? How would we know if she was safe and okay? There are days when I am driving and I come up with ways for the girls to turn down a drink without loosing face at college (they could just say they are allergic, right?!). I don’t think I am neurotic; I may be Italian but all parents think this way, right?!
The thought of keeping my girls in a bubble is so appealing. No one will be able to play pranks on them or hurt them. No one will tease them. As Ashlin approaches double digits in age this spring I realize that more and more she is going to have to take care of herself; I am going to have to trust that she can do it and that she will be okay.
It is my and her father’s job to ensure she can take care of herself. It is our job to let her go and experience the world and the people in it; the good and the not so good. And you better believe that she will learn how to physically take care of herself! I guess I have to slowly start letting her take more care of herself. Both my girls are strong beings. They will be just fine! Right?!!!


Transitions ~ Helen Cotton Leiser

December 30, 2013


  1. process of change: a process or period in which something undergoes a change and passes from one state, stage, form, or activity to another.

As parents of any child we go through transitions as our children graduate to different stages in their own life. I am finding myself in that category right now as my baby just turned 5 (yikes! No more babies!!), and my oldest is about to turn 9 (that sounds so old!). Obviously as they gain more independence so do I which is incredible (and timely!!) 

There is also a level of angst in this next phase of our life. My girls have been nicely wrapped up in the arms of a great private school for the last 7 years. By the end of this month we will know if they have been accepted at one of the mainstream schools we’ve applied for next fall. Why leave such a wonderful school that has taught my girls so well and has held and supported me in the early, tenuous years? Well, it’s time. The thought of leaving our school makes me incredibly sad, but I know that with transition and change come so many incredible opportunities. 

The other part of my angst is that as the girls get older there are so many more things to teach them! Just the other day at the grocery store I mentioned needing to go back to the ‘produce’ department. Neither girl knew what I meant. “The produce department”, I said. They both looked at me vacantly. Immediately I went into panic mode. “I haven’t taught them about the departments in a grocery store and soon enough I am going to have teach about some really important things about life! I am terrible at this! I am clearly NOT ready!” I screamed internally at myself. 

I remember listening to some of Hands & Voices colleagues and fellow parents talk about the grief they re-entered as their child grew up and transitioned into pre-school, middle school and college. I know these changes are tough on any parent, and I think for us as parents of deaf/hard of hearing children there is a deeper layer of grief, and release that we experience. When Ashlin moved from Early Intervention into pre-school I encountered so much anxiety. I had such a strong, personal relationship with our Early Intervention provider who took care of me as much as she did my daughter. Who was going to fill that void for me? There was also physical space created as I no longer had weekly Early Intervention appointments. What would I do with that time? Actually work?! That particular transition, just like the one I am currently entering, gave me space and time to focus on myself. I am currently finding that to be an uncomfortable place to be in. 

For the last 7 years (Ashlin was identified at 18 months as deaf), I have fought insurance companies, got a legislative bill passed, learned and learned some more, gone to countless appointments, learned how to teach my girls language…. And, thankfully, I also walked into my role with Hands &Voices. And now with this new transition a space has been created so that I can really grow and succeed in my own life. 

Last year’s theme at the Hands & Voices Leadership conference was about creating balance. I was interpreting that as taking time to go for a run and maybe have a girl’s night out every so often. Almost a year later (okay, so I can be a slow learner!!), I think the message was really about remembering who we are at our core; feeding our core being so that as we encounter these transitions with our children we aren’t so lost. In the beginning of this journey it is definitely challenging, but I encourage you to try. Do something each day or each week that feeds your core being.

And yes, the girls now know all the departments in a grocery store. They learned that same day! The other shoppers likely thought I was crazy (well, I did have a crazed panic look on my face!), but I feel better as a mother!



This is the place where we find each other…

October 29, 2013

HV logo

We’re parents and families with children who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH).  Most of us are hearing ourselves (95% of us, according to the statistics) and our DHH child might be the first person with hearing loss we’ve ever met (not counting Great Aunt Louise).

Wherever you are in your parent journey with your child…whether you’re talking, signing, cueing or combining, or even if you have no idea yet what the best communication mode will be, you’re welcome here. Whether you’re child is newly identified with a hearing loss or a senior in high school, you’re welcome here.

This is Hands & Voices…we’re parents who are trying to make the best decisions we can for our children from birth until they leave the nest. It helps to share with each other so we started this blog.

If you want to know more about our organization, please visit the official website at

Welcome to this parent community. Please be nice. We’re all trying the best we can and would never hurt anybody’s feelings intentionally, so thank you for being sensitive with your remarks to the diverse perspectives shared on this blog. We reserve the right to moderate comments and will not publish anything that gives offense. If we have missed the mark for you, please let us know and we’ll try harder the next time.