Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Parenting a Deaf Child’ Category
When my first child was born, I wasn’t prepared for the experience of my heart being wrenched out during the moments of learning to “let go.” The first time my husband and I went out for dinner and left the baby with grandparents, I was excited for about twenty minutes. Then I started wondering, “I wonder if he’s crying? (he was going through the colicky stage), did I leave enough breast milk? Will they remember to change his diaper?” and so on.
The first time I let go of my toddler’s hand to take his first steps, he faceplanted hard on the carpet. When the second and third kid came along, I was much more cautious about letting go and waited until I thought they could master the walking thing. Some of that wisdom comes from experience the second time around, and some of it comes from being patient and knowing the time when the kid was ready to master it on his/her own. That’s the fine line of parenting and letting go–figuring out that magic formula and timing.
We live in an era of Helicopter Parenting–parents who hold the reins of parenting so tight that the kid has little opportunity to learn on their own and make mistakes. But here’s the thing, letting go is a vital part of the parenting transition that enables a child to achieve maximum growth in all areas of life.
When my oldest son was around five, we were at a McDonalds (I know, I know) playland and he asked for an ice cream cone. I gave him the cash and he went up to the counter to order his ice cream. Another parent who was with me was flabbergasted.
“You let him order by himself?”
My oldest son is deaf, and from an early age I wanted him to be independent and competent just like any other kid. I stood back and watched as he ordered his own ice cream. He came triumphantly walking back happily devouring his cone. The other parent continued to order for her deaf child for YEARS after that. She just could not let go and allow her kid to struggle with the ordering process. It was far easier for her to speak for her child and do the ordering.
The struggle is part of the process. In fact, it’s probably one of the most valuable aspects of the parenting gig–letting your child navigate the world and the challenges on their own is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your kid. The letting go stuff is hard. It’s so much easier to do for, or hold on–and wait for a better time or more maturity–before letting go. Yet, by letting go, our kids gain skills and experiences that they wouldn’t have if we didn’t hover so darn hard over them.
The first time I let a child take off with the car and a newly-minted driver’s license my heart was in my throat. And no, it did not become easier with each child because I was reliving all my fears, doubts, and scary thoughts with each child. But the only way around the fear of letting go is to…let go.
And the first time they leave home…oh my…that’s the ultimate letting go.
Letting go often means giving up control, and that can be so darned tough at times. Here are some tips for navigating those parenting transitions that involve letting go:
Shift Your Perspective:
Instead of seeing the letting go process as a loss of control, focus on the gain from it: increased independence, learning, and growth. Each time you “let go” and allow your child to experience something new and unknown, both of you grow in the process. Yes, your child may make mistakes or chose poor outcomes as a result, but the lessons learned can strengthen both of you. You can actually stunt your child’s growth by holding back instead of letting go.
Connect with Other Parents:
One of the easiest ways to handle the letting go process is to connect and talk with other parents who have been there or are going through the same process. You will often find that “hindsight advice” is spot on and this will help ease the parenting transition. Knowing that you aren’t alone in the “letting go” process can be comforting.
Connect with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adults:
When you’re early in the parenting journey with your Deaf/Hard of hearing child, it can be difficult to see into the future years because you’re just trying to get through the day to day stuff. Take the opportunity to meet Deaf/Hard of hearing adults. This is a wonderful way to get questions answered, to see different perspectives and experiences, and to gain knowledge that would otherwise be difficult to find on your own. Take some time to scour the web for stories of Deaf/Hard of Hearing adults in various professions and activities and share them with your child.
Karen Putz is the mom of Dave, Ren, and Steven. She is the Co-Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion at Hands & Voices. For fun, she walks on water.
It was a frosty morning that April in 1982, the middle of the month– you’d think it would be warming up here in the Pacific Northwest. But maybe it was my nerves that was sending chills thru my body. We arrived at the Hospital early in the morning to get my labor started. This was my third baby and both previous births were not easy. I was a bit nervous.
All settled in and ready to go, here we go , one more time, I can do it. This was me self-talking my way thru this ordeal called giving birth. The nurse came in to hook up the drug that would get my labor going, a must since my “water” broke the day before. In those days most people never knew if they were having a boy or girl, but then it really didn’t matter to us since this baby would have a brother who was 5 years older and a sister who was 3 1/2 years older.
To fast forward over all the gory details, labor was extremely hard but not too long, about 8 hours from start to finish. After much struggle, baby boy Bergsma was born. I noticed that all the doctors jumped up and looked concern at the moment of birth. I was so exhausted I could barely whisper “what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” said the doctor.
But I noticed the umbilical cord was tightly wrapped around the baby’s neck and he was not breathing. He looked very pale and limp, dead-like really. After all that work, was he even alive? It seemed like an hour went by but I’m quite sure it was only 20 seconds when I heard a wonderful newborn cry.
As I looked over at him, he was nice size–I thought, maybe 9 pounds.
I was close he was 8lbs 14 oz and doing pretty well by now. Andy and I were ready to introduce Mitchel Kent Bergsma.
At home, Mitch was spoiled by his sister who loved to sit and hold him. He was a very good baby. I didn’t know what a good baby was like since both his older brother Tyler and sister Tandi were always crying. They cried so much I didn’t know if I could handle another baby who cried. The first week we are doing good, no crying, and on we went , no crying.
I can’t remember exactly when I took Mitch to the doctor in concern. I laid baby Mitchie on the table and said, “There. Take a look at him, something must be wrong.”
Dr Johnson, our kids’ pediatrician, looked at the baby and said, “What’s wrong?
I told him it’s been months and I’ve not heard him cry yet, so something must be wrong with him. The doctor took the baby and checked him out thoroughly. He turned to me and said, “Well, I’m not sure what to tell you.”
I knew it, I thought, something is wrong!
“I think you have a good baby this time” and then he smiled.
I think I actually cried, never had I actually enjoyed the newborn stage of my other two babies because they cried all day. At this point I don’t actually believe it to be true but I went home and told my husband what the doctor said.
Baby Mitchie was such a good baby that he would sleep 12 hours at night and take a couple very long naps during the day. When he was awake he was always happy. He seemed a bit different though and I chalked it up to being such a good baby. And remember, we had never experienced this up till now. He was extremely visual, he would watch and copy facial expressions, if you smiled big at him he would do the same back to you with his two huge dimples.
As he lay in the little seat on the table he made such a loud noise that we all covered our ears. It was a weird sound coming out of a small baby I thought. But I had a good baby this time and that’s what they are like I guess. Looking back, I now know different but at the time, that’s what I thought.
Baby Mitchie was a very huggable baby, so lovable and very happy, always smiling. I can’t really ever say I remember him crabby or crying. When he was around 8 months old when I carried him in my arms he would always put his hand on my throat when I would talk. He did such cute things, so different from his brother and sister.
One time we left him with my sister and her family when he was around 15 months old. It was over the Fourth of July and they took him to a fireworks show. My sister mentioned that he sat the whole time with his eyes shut and seemed scared. It seemed that whenever he was scared or not sure of what was happening he would just shut down and close his eyes. Months later we know why he behaved that way, but it seemed odd at the time.
Months went by, he was still a good baby, but now I’m noticing that he seems to look me in the face and follow my expression but doesn’t really respond to anything I say to him. If I would say “Daddy’s home” and by this close to a year old he should understand some of what I’m saying and respond to me. Sometime he wouldn’t even look at me when I’d talk to him. Again I thought was he just good-natured or a bit odd? Actually I hate to say this but I did think at one point that maybe he just wasn’t very bright.
It was time for his 9 month check up. One thing I really liked about Dr David Johnson was that he never rushed thru the visit, he would sit and listen to any concerns I had. He didn’t disappoint this time either. The doctor asked how everything was going, I hesitated to say this, but I had to get my concern out
“I think maybe this baby is not very smart.”
Doctor J. sat down next to me and said “Well, tell me about it, why do you say that?”
I went on to tell him how the baby ignored me when I was trying to get his attention or how he didn’t respond to me correctly.
The doctor thought for a few minutes, and said, “Maybe he doesn’t hear you.”
Doesn’t hear me I thought? What, everyone hears, especially babies. After some thought I said, “Okay, then maybe he needs tubes in his ears, I hear that fixes most babies ear problems?”
“Well…” The doctor looked through his files. “He hasn’t had any ear infections. So that’s not the problem.”
My mind was running wild. What!? Doesn’t hear me! What, everyone hears! What’s happening here? The doctor said to go home, talk to my husband Andy, think about it and come back in a few months for the next check up and we’ll see what we think then.
As I am driving home, I can’t stop thinking about it and it is starting to come together. After talking it through with Mitch’s dad, it didn’t take long for us to realize that its possible that Mitch doesn’t hear. I am thinking of all the things that were different: the strange noises he made, so loud we covered our ears and he made weird little noises in his throat, and always focusing on our faces.
I put me hand on my own throat, as Mitch always did, then made a sound. Oh man, it hit me, he was feeling my voice! Now I get it, he would feel my voice and then look me in the face. He liked the vibration in my throat. He knew something was happening, he was a smart baby, so very smart, really! At such a young age he was already adapting! I think he was figuring out his surroundings in his own way and learning to deal with them.
That night, Andy and I were going over all the details of this baby’s short life so far and all the ways and funny things he did differently than the other two kids. We knew that night, we might have a deaf baby. We bonded together and decided that we would find out everything we could so we would know how to help this truly delightful baby.
I can look back today and say we never had the dreaded “why us” thoughts. We had hard times and a new path to fight through but seldom a pity us syndrome. We thanked God for that first wonderful year of Mitch’s life without the wonder of something being wrong.
And this was the easy part….
Half Full or Half Empty?
Of course there were times we wanted to have a pity-party about having a deaf child. Not often, but it did happen. The sadness of something that never will be, things that we love that he will never have the opportunity to hear, like music, birds chirping. Things, I thought at the time, he would never be able to do; drive a car, go into a store alone and function alone in this big world. The dangers are everywhere for a deaf child. I didn’t really know any deaf kids or families for that matter so this whole deal was new to us. We had no knowledge or experience; what we should or shouldn’t do. But then it’s that way with every parent, but at least your family can guide you along. This was a whole new world for us and we were going to just have to “wing it.”
Luckily we had a very happy child, he only knows his life as it is; not as it could have been.
When Mitch was around 6 years old. our family went camping at a Washington State Park. That summer they had a few ponies for the kids to ride. We rented a pony for the kids. Mitch’s brother Tyler and sister Tandi didn’t want to ride one, but Mitch sure did. He climbed up and of course they only let you ride it in a circle with the owner holding tight. Mitch loved every minute of it!
Then this little girl and her mom came up to ride a pony. The girl was blind and as they put her in the saddle, her mom described the pony to her. She told her the pony was black and guided her hand around his mane and head as she petted him. The mom was really good with her. We stood back in awe, as the complete opposite was happening right before us from what were experiencing with Mitch.
On one pony there was a deaf child and the other pony was a blind child; who has more of disadvantage?
Mitch couldn’t hear the clip clop of the hooves, the sounds the pony makes; snorts, whining, the owner talking to the pony. But he could see the color, he knew what black was and what the horse looked like, how tall it was, the coarseness of its hair as it flew up in the wind, the fullness of its mane, its big beautiful eyes and eyelashes. I don’t remember her name, but this little girl could hear the sounds; the snorts, the whining, the clip clop, the owner as she guided the pony around the circle. But she has no idea that the color black is very dark, what the actual animal looks like, where she was riding or who is even guiding her. She must have so much trust in those around her.
We told Mitch the little girl couldn’t see, and her mom told her daughter there was a little boy on the other pony that couldn’t hear. She could hear us talk but not see us sign to Mitch. Her mom explained how we used our hands to talk to him. Mitch was fascinated by her and the fact she couldn’t see and wondered why. And she was just as fascinated about him. He just couldn’t imagine not seeing, and she couldn’t imagine not hearing. They both asked why the other couldn’t hear or see.
It was an experience I will never forget; who was better off, who has the advantage? I’m sure each thought they were the one better off. As most of us enjoy both sight and sound, our glass is half full, is theirs also half full or is it half empty. If you asked each one of them today they would probably say they are the lucky one. She was so happy to hear her mom’s voice and the noises around her and Mitch was really happy he could see the things around him.
One day, Mitch told his dad he wanted to play hockey. He was around 10 years old at the time.
“Hockey!” we said. “Why? Why would you want to do that?”
But Mitch was very insistent, so Mitch’s dad and uncle George took him to a Canucks game in Canada one day. Mitch came home even more excited to play. We signed him up at the local arena, bought all his gear. Then we realized that he has never been on the ice, what if he hates it or can’t skate? Too late now, we are $500 deep into this thing. He is playing even if he hates it.
Well, on his first day on the ice, he came to me and said, “Mom, you can’t know the feeling, its like floating!” He was hooked. He took to skating like he’d done it for years. I think he played for 6 years then it became a whole different game, more serious.
By this time, Mitch was more interested in water sports. I always say he went from solid to liquid; ice to water. One of his high school friends had a wakeboard boat and Mitch would go every weekend. He found a new love in this sport. He did seem to excel at this sport too. He would go on to be very skilled on the water, but in Washington the summers are short and only a couple of months of warm enoughhis friend and family moved back to Colorado.
When Mitch was around 20 he decided to move to Colorado to live with his friend and his family so he could get away from our small town and get back on the wakeboard. I didn’t think he would actually do it as he had never driven a car to the next town let alone across the country. And now he was talking about driving his car and pulling a U-Haul trailer with all his motorcycles in it across 5 states to Colorado. He must be nuts!
The night before he left, I was in absolute disbelief and utter stock. I cried like a baby, worried myself absolutely sick, literally shook with fear and really thought I would never see him again. Had we prepared him enough for the world? The things he might come in contact with were too much for me to bear. What if he gets lost, or an accident? How can I stop him from going?
Mitch was not afraid. He was totally prepared, with his laptop in the car with his journey all mapped out and every stop tagged. He knew what he was doing and where he was going and why. I was forced to trust him at this point and let go. My husband Andy didn’t seem to have the reservations and fears that I did. He assured me that he would be fine.
Well morning came, I had cried all night. Mitch loaded up his car and drove away with me filling a river with tears. He said to me, as he stood in the driveway, “Do you want me to stay here forever or go live my life?”
(I have to say this is the only time that I tried to use the “deaf card.”) “Mitch! Did you forget you’re deaf?”
This sent him in a laughing fit and he assured me that he would be fine, and that I can stay in constant contact with him along the way. Which I did.
(Mitch took up competition and became a wakeboard pro. Check out his skills:
A YouTube Star is Born
Today, as I look back on this, I can be so thankful that his glass was half full and that Mitch was willing to step outside the safe box, go explore the world. He was full of life and wanted to experience so many things and adventures away from the safety net of home. But at that time I gained a few gray hairs and shed a bucket of tears. My husband would remind me that’s how we raised him and not to try to hold him back now. But at that moment, I sure regretted the independence we instilled in him.
Mitch started creating YouTube videos and all of a sudden, he attracted a large audience. Mitch’s success on YouTube and notoriety around the world really gave him even more richness in his life. For some reason it seems to be “cool” that he is deaf. Would he have had the appeal if he was hearing? He found an outlet in this digital world to really explore his talents in videography, bring it to the world and actually make money doing it. We bought him a video camera for high school graduation because he loved photography. We had no idea he had the “eye”. He told me he did when he was younger but I didn’t really believe him. So many doors have opened for him because he has explored this avenue.
When I traveled to Brussels with Mitch in the summer of 2014, while he was there producing a commercial, just the sounds of the languages around me were fascinating. One day at lunchtime we decided to go to the “Grand Place” at an outside cafe. I wanted to sit next to this park-like spot because this young lady was there playing a song beautifully by Andrea Bocelli on her flute. When Bocelli sings it just makes me stop everything and listen, it romantically represents Europe to me for some reason. Mitch asked me why I wanted to sit there and I responded that the music was so beautiful that I wanted to listen to it. He looked at me and shook his head like he understood but really he has no idea how music can speak to your soul. When I returned to work after that trip I teared up as I was telling one of my co-workers how the music that day really touched me, and how much I love music, the sad fact that he just doesn’t get the same enjoyment from it and never will. But in respect to that; sign language is a feast for the eyes, it lays out the story and transcends you into the mood and right into the song. I have a hard time watching someone signing a song and not tearing up. The movements just become the words and they paint the story so beautifully. There are times when I can’t help but sign when listening to a song, to me a song is complete when the beauty of sign language is added. A beautiful replacement for sound.
Mitch is definitely living his life to the fullest. He is now married. He still has a long list of countries to visit and things to experience but he has done more to date than I ever expected from him in his whole life. My view of success for a deaf child in adulthood was a job, an apartment, a car and hopefully someone to love. To date he can check all those boxes…and more.
How do we make sure our deaf kids view the glass as half-full? I don’t have any great answers but it seems to me that experiences are what fill up that glass. We were lucky that we had a child who wanted to explore and experience life to its fullest. I think this is to be encouraged–not just our deaf kids–but all kids.
Follow her on her blog, Deaf-initely Mitch
At birth Jaden had a hearing test like all newborns in our state and he failed; two weeks later he had a repeat test and he passed (or so we were told). The next several months went by without incident but at about 9 months, I felt he was not developing the way he should. Jaden was making milestones but later than most kids do.
At Jaden’s one year check-up I brought up my concerns to his pediatrician. it was shortly after this that Jaden began Early Intervention services. Jaden began basic skills, physical and speech therapy. Closer to 2 years of age Jaden also began occupational therapy. Jaden’s days became filled with what I call “structured play”; every day of the week sometimes more than once a day, Jaden had one therapy or another.
It was by accepting the fact Jaden was not quite where he should be and by being willing to allow professionals into our home that we were able to start getting Jaden caught up. He went from a boy not walking to one who could take steps and eventually run.
With the help of his therapists Jadan was making progress in most areas but his speech had not shown significant improvement. Between 1 and 2 years of age, Jaden had 3 hearing tests all of which came back inconclusive. Just after his 2nd birthday Jaden had an ABR and that is when we found out about his hearing loss. Jaden has a severe to profound hearing loss in his right ear and a moderate hearing loss in his left ear. He was fitted for hearing aids the same day he was diagnosed. That day I was not upset; rather I felt relieved and almost vindicated. I knew there was an issue and now I had the answer; we could begin to help Jaden in ways that we had not helped him before. Finding out about Jaden’s hearing loss is what I call the first half of the puzzle that is Jaden. His hearing loss did not explain all of his quirks, such as low muscle tone and feeding issues, but it did explain why he was not talking.
Within a week or two of Jaden being diagnosed we were put in touch with a teacher of the deaf for infants; she was a blessing to our family. She began working with not just Jaden but our entire family once a week and what a difference it made! Jaden started picking up signs right and left; especially signs for his favorite things like milk and cookies. Now that Jaden had hearing aids, with the help of his speech therapist, his speech began to improve too. Okay, so he was not talking yet but he was babbling which is something he had not done before.
In January of 2010 Jaden started at Little Listeners Pre-K class at the NYS School for the Deaf in Rome; since then there has been no looking back. Sending our not yet 3 year old son on a bus to a school about 30 minutes away to attend a full day of school was an adjustment for the entire family but it has been one of the best choices we have ever made for him. Jaden was in a small Pre-K class with a wonderful teacher and teacher’s aide. At school Jaden also continued to get speech therapy from an amazing therapist every day of the week along with getting occupational and physical therapy both several times a week from great therapists.
It is with the help, knowledge and daily communication that our family had with his team that blessed us with a whole new little boy. During his pre-k years with the help of his teacher and speech therapist Jaden went from a boy whose number of words could be counted on one hand to one who talks and talks and talks. I never thought it was possible but there are days I crave silence; what a wonderful ‘problem’ to have!
When Jaden was almost 4 years old, he was diagnosed with a genetic condition called 22q Deletion Syndrome; this is the 2nd half of the puzzle that is Jaden. We are fortunate in that Jaden does not have many of the health issues that others with this condition do. Though this was not something I considered to be good news, it is something we are fortunate to know for it explains many of Jaden’s quirks; such as feeding issues which he no longer has and weak muscle tone and fine motor skills which we now know he will likely always have.
Over the past several years Jaden has blossomed into a funny, smart, confident and witty little boy in large part thanks to the knowledge that we have been fortunate enough to find out about him and being willing to accept the help and information that others could give us.
Today Jaden is 9 years old and in the 4th grade. Jaden’s newest adventure began in September of this year. Jaden has entered a mainstream school setting in our local school district (New York Mills). We are fortunate in that Jaden has many of people rooting for him. Our family has had and continues to have tons of support from individuals that have worked with Jaden in the past as well as those that are new to his team. Jaden seems to be settling in nicely to his new school and he’s even joined drama club and band. I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road as Jaden embarks on this new journey however, we have every expectation that Jaden will continue to thrive and excel at his new school.
I think Jaden’s story shows that the saying “Knowledge is Power” is so very true; accept the knowledge that others can give you about your child, embrace it and use it to help your child. For our family, it is the knowledge that we have been given about Jaden, both good and not so good, that has allowed us to help him become the wonderful boy he is today.
Thirteen years ago I was grieving the loss of having a child that could hear. My daughter had just been diagnosed with a permanent hearing loss. I was facing a lot of decisions to make about amplification, communication, doctors, and therapies. I left the audiologist’s office that day with a hundred emotions swirling inside. I realized my daughter had most likely never heard me say “I love you” or calling to her from the another room in the house to say, “It’s okay, Momma’s right here” while she was crying. I also realized that day, that her life was exactly the same as the day before. She was happy, smiling, still had her favorite foods, toys, books, and TV show. Most importantly, she knew she was loved and she knew how to love as well.
My life changed that day, not hers.
Shortly after that day, my husband and I were contacted by professionals to help us know what to do. We were provided guidance and information, but ultimately, we had to make choices for our daughter and our family. We were not aware of the conflict and controversies surrounding communication and amplification options for deaf or hard-of-hearing children. We simply made decisions that felt right to us for our family and our daughter.
We continued to make decisions that were right for our child and our family. We were lucky though, we knew we had options and choices. Part of this was because of our location, part because we worked with experienced and knowledgeable professionals, and part because we had support–family and friends were beside us to support our decisions.
A couple of years later I found myself working as a parent mentor. Somehow I had become the parent that others went to for advice and guidance. During those two years, the job brought me into a world of differences and really taught me how to support parents who have a different perspective and those who made different choices than I did. That shift in focus was hard for me. Some days I didn’t understand why parents made the choices they did for their child and family. When I took the time to listen, and I mean really listen and hear what parents were telling me, I realized we were not all that different. We had the same goals for child and family, the only difference was the path we chose to get there.
One of my job duties was to establish a support program for parents and families of deaf children. My job was to provide support without bias for families of all deaf children regardless of the choices they made. This is how I found Hands & Voices.
Hands & Voices was founded by parents who were tired of the communication wars. They quite simply wanted to support each other, because raising a deaf or hard of hearing child alone is hard. The parents involved wanted unbiased and unbridled emotional support. A group of parents guiding parents.
The first Hands & Voices conference I attended felt like home. In my life as “Reagan’s Mom,” I often found myself explaining the choices we made for our family and why, but when I attended the Hands & Voices conference, there was no need to explain myself. No one there judged us, disagreed with our choices, or disrespected our choices. Everyone had open arms and welcomed me and my family, because now we were all family.
Hands & Voices has shown me that it is okay to have my own opinion and personal belief system, but also how to set those aside and walk beside any parent of a child who is deaf or hard of hearing. Hands & Voices has a wonderful way of respectfully accepting individual differences, while focusing on our common goals to achieve success-individually and collectively. We do not let our differences separate us, but instead our differences bring us together.
Thirteen years on my path raising a deaf child and 11 years into my role supporting parents has made me realize two things; there is no fork in the road and we are all sharing the same path. We all want happy, well-adjusted kids. The path we walk is shared with parents, families, children, friends, Deaf adults, doctors, audiologists, speech-language pathologists, teachers, interpreters, and more. I urge you to take the time to talk to and listen to the people sharing your path and find the shared respect and support we all need.
There is room for everyone on our path.
I write to you as the hearing mother to my 4-year-old daughter Sarah who is Deaf. On Sunday evening my daughter, her father and grandparents were getting ready to watch the National Anthem prior to the Super Bowl. Why was she watching? Because last Tuesday the website for the National Association for the Deaf explained that Marlee Matlin would be performing the National Anthem in American Sign Language along with Lady Gaga. Here is the link to that announcement – https://nad.org/news/2016/2/nad-nfl-pepsico-and-cbs-announce-marlee-matlin-perform-asl-super-bowl-50. I do not have the statistics regarding how many people who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing were watching the Super Bowl on Sunday night. However, according to a Gallaudet University website, “Across all age groups approximately 600,000 people in the United States (0.22% of the population, or 2.2 per 1,000) are “deaf.”
We can assume with good reason that a great many people who are Deaf and use American Sign Language in order to fully access communication were watching the game and anticipated seeing Marlee Matlin’s performance. I watched it, and by my calculations she was on the screen for not longer than 2 seconds. This is unacceptable.
CBS has a civic responsibility to provide equal access to communication for all people. I know that the interpretation was on the Jumbotron during the entire performance but what about broadcast television? Surely, additional cameras could have been utilized to guarantee equal access to communication.
I have some confusion regarding why this situation has occurred in the first place. Yes, Lady Gaga is an international celebrity. People want to see her sing. I myself enjoy her performances. However, Marlee Matlin is also a very well-known celebrity and an Academy Award winning actor. She currently stars in the acclaimed television program ‘Switched at Birth’ and she recently starred in ‘Spring Awakenings’ on Broadway. Deaf and hearing people alike should have been given the opportunity to see her ASL interpretation during the Super Bowl.
I think our largely hearing society forgets or just does not realize that for smart, capable, educated people (like all of the Deaf people who I have met, been educated by and befriended since my daughter was born in March of 2011) American Sign Language is not just something that would be nice to see if it’s possible. It’s like spoken English for people who are hearing. It is purely and simply necessary in order for a full access to communication to take place.
CBS: you had an immense opportunity during the Super Bowl–an event with far reaching magnitude–to show my daughter and so many other children and adults who are Deaf that society recognizes them. All the cameras needed to do was shine their lights on both the singer who was performing in English and on the performer who was using ASL in a poetic and equally beautiful performance.
I hope that CBS can do better in the future. I hope that my daughter can begin to see more of herself in society. I believe that change and growth is possible and I hope that in the future we can bring that to fruition. I will be submitting this piece to other organizations in hopes of continuing a conversation that greatly needs a voice.
Sharon Lynn Clark
Mother, Teacher, Writer
Rachel Kolb is a Stanford graduate and Rhodes scholar who is currently pursuing a PhD in English literature at Emory University in Atlanta, GA. Rachel was born profoundly deaf to hearing parents and grew up bilingual, using both sign language and spoken English. In this guest blog post, Rachel and her parents, Irene and Bill Kolb, give their respective perspectives on how their family navigated the complexities of communication, education, and personal development, especially during the early years of Rachel’s life.
Q: Briefly describe your family’s journey with deafness and with communication. How did you, as parents or as a family, make the decisions you did?
Irene: The day after we received Rachel’s diagnosis of having a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, we went to the main library and checked out every book available on sign language and deafness. I learned that the biggest window of opportunity for language acquisition is from birth to three years. We started using signs that same day and within a few months, Rachel was communicating to us with baby signs.
This was the year that cochlear implants were approved for children by the FDA and we were told she was a candidate. We did not know if Rachel would grow up to self-identify as Deaf. We chose not to pursue cochlear implant surgery for her because we were sensitive to the message it may send, that she was not okay being deaf. The most profound book I read was Deaf Like Me. With that book, we came to the early realization that Rachel may never learn to hear or speak, even with a cochlear implant, but we could learn to sign. And who wouldn’t want to have open communication with their child? The journey continued to unfold, but we didn’t really know where it would lead or how we would get there.
We as parents continually learned new things and let Rachel try new things. We enabled Rachel’s interests and passions, and we made educational decisions on Rachel’s behalf. That’s what parents do: set the path. We chose to send her to a preschool for the deaf and then mainstream her with an interpreter in elementary school. She attended a private school, with an interpreter and as the only deaf student, from sixth through twelfth grade. We never considered sending her to a residential deaf school because we felt children need to live with their families. Rachel being deaf is not more heavily weighted than her identity of being part of our family. Going to college was simply an accepted family conviction, not an option or a mere possibility. By that time, it was Rachel’s choice on where to apply for college and what she wanted to study. We had set the path; the rest was all up to her.
Bill: We have two lovely girls that we are truly blessed with. I believe Irene is the one who set the path forward for Rachel’s journey. Irene is the one who would read everything available on a topic and then ask me for my input. After that, we would march forward with a new plan. She is a remarkable individual who helped shape not only Rachel’s future but helped me make informed decisions.
Right after Rachel was diagnosed, we were placed into a New Mexico state-sponsored program called Step-Hi. People from this program would visit our home regularly and give us important information and services. The initial visits were very basic, and taught us things such as how to clean ear molds, change hearing aid batteries, and so forth. Then during one visit the individual brought a record that gave me, as a hearing person, an insight to what different levels of hearing loss sounded like. The record repeated a story over and over again, and each time the narrator would drop certain frequencies until the recording lost all frequencies – that is, let me hear what it sounded like to be profoundly deaf. This recording really hit home with me. Going forward, I decided I would learn as much as I could about how to communicate with my precious daughter.
We enrolled in sign language classes that were offered over lunch at our workplace. We went to the local university and enrolled in continued education sign language classes. We obtained as many sign language books and videos as we could and practiced with each other and with Rachel. We also decided we would not only communicate by sign but also with voice. If you were part of the family, signing was not an option. It was a way of life. Written language was also a way of life. We used 3”x5” cards to label most things in the house with their names. We also sat at night and signed (read) books to Rachel. Before long she was reading better and faster than I could, and she soon told me (in not so many words), “Get lost, you’re too slow.”
I believe that if a person is going to be born deaf, this time is much better than any other time in history due to the evolution of assistive devices such as hearing aids, text messages, closed captioning, Skype, and so forth. When Rachel was diagnosed, hearing aids were worn on the chest and the batteries were the size of a car battery – well, not really, but they were enormous. Technology was rapidly changing, which made it hard and expensive to keep up with. But we made an early decision as parents that we would try to keep up with the latest in technologies for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. We investigated and pursued options for hearing aids and other technologies to best meet Rachel’s needs, and I believe that also made a difference.
Rachel: As I’ve gotten older, I have appreciated more and more the effort my parents put into getting the right information and into making decisions on my behalf. Most important, for me, is the decision they made to learn sign language and to enable my bilingual communication access. I have met too many deaf individuals who feel like they cannot communicate with their hearing family members because their family does not sign. Having a family that signed and that worked to provide language access for me gave me a sense of confidence in myself, even when things got challenging. With my family, I was never just deaf; I was a fully contributing member of the family, and my parents’ high expectations enabled me to learn and to succeed in the ways I wanted.
I also appreciate that my parents recognized that it was important for me to have access to the deaf community, even if I was mainstreamed. I went to a deaf camp in Aspen, Colorado every summer for many years (and went for several winters, too). Although most of my friends are (and have always been) hearing, I’ve been able to find and keep in touch with deaf friends from many different places. Trying to be involved in both deaf and hearing worlds is not always easy, but I think my parents recognized this early on and tried to give me as many tools and as much access as they could to both.
Q: What was the most important thing you learned along the way?
Irene: I learned and was empowered by the fact that no one, not even the professionals, knows what is best for a particular family or child. Listening to the advice and reading up on how to raise a deaf child was just part of the critical thinking that led us to decisions, and we never felt we had to go along with what one side or the other said. We could make our own decisions, based on our family situation and our values. We certainly chose a different approach than many families, and that is okay. One size does not fit all.
Bill: I learned that family is the most important thing. Through thick and thin, family will always be there for each other. If you put a little effort into something, the rewards will surround you tenfold. I also learned to let my children explore the world and follow their heart. Rachel has mastered her passions through following her desires.
Rachel: I learned how to enable and advocate for myself, definitely not as something that happened overnight but as a result of my parents’ decisions and the expectations they had for me. They made it clear they would always be there for me, but also made it clear that there were some things I could only do or decide for myself. Learning how to take control over my own decisions and become my own best advocate has been a process that has taken years, but thanks to my family’s involvement I feel like I’ve gotten there.
Q: Were there any parts of the journey where you disagreed about one thing or another? What parts were the most challenging?
Irene: I can’t think of a time when we disagreed. I do think that at times Rachel wondered why we chose a mainstream situation instead of putting her into a school with other deaf students. A very challenging aspect for me was the grief I felt. It’s not that I didn’t love and appreciate Rachel. Having a deaf child was not what I had expected. A new, difficult situation would arise for Rachel, and I would grieve. Bill helped me realize that not every difficult situation was related to her deafness. Over time grief cropped up less and less, but it was a very tough emotion to process, especially at the beginning. Bill and I usually took turns being in a grief funk and luckily it was not often that we were in a funk at the same time. The emotional toll of having a deaf or other special needs child is something I don’t think people talk about enough, or one that the professionals appreciate from a personal standpoint.
Bill: I also can’t think of a situation where we disagreed. I think the most challenging aspect for me was being concerned about Rachel’s emotional wellbeing. When she was a young child we would attend social gatherings where all the other kids would be playing and talking. Rachel would end up in an isolated part of the house reading a book. This just wrenched my heart and there was nothing we could do about the situation. Nothing could be said or done that would make others accept and include her in their games and time together. When faced with groups of people, we would try to sign or at a minimum explain what was happening, but often we failed to keep Rachel current with the situation. I am not sure what I would change or how I could make it better for her if I had to do it again. Sometimes we would visit deaf individuals to give her the opportunities to be with other deaf people, but that then put me in a situation where I often could not understand the conversations.
Rachel: I’ve come across stories of deaf and hard-of-hearing people who resent the decisions (especially communication-related decisions) their parents made on their behalf. I don’t feel like this has happened to me, maybe because I’ve never felt like my parents dropped me in completely over my head, or did not understand the repercussions of their decisions, or did not empathize with what I was going through. Some things along the way, such as being mainstreamed or going to speech therapy, were certainly frustrating and difficult. I’ll be honest, I did not always enjoy being surrounded by hearing peers, many of whom did not make the same effort to communicate with me as my family did. But my parents gave me their full support, and I also was conscious that their choices gave me benefits I would not have gotten otherwise, such as access to an incredible education. Growing up, my family was my refuge: they were the ones who enabled me, who were always there, and who let me be fully myself. I won’t deny that it was very difficult at times to grow up in a hearing world, but with where I am right now I also can’t say I would have changed very many of those tangible decisions, based on the options we had.
Q: Who was your most valuable mentor?
Irene: Rachel’s very first speech language pathologist was very instrumental in helping us through those early days. Beginning at six months old, Rachel started going to speech therapy twice a week for years, and continued going once a week in middle school through high school. I would often talk to the SLP after the sessions. That was therapeutic for me and helped shape my ideas of how to educate a deaf child to function in a hearing world, even though we did not choose the cochlear implant route, which must have seemed odd, especially since this SLP was the director of the cochlear implant program. She supported our choices. And she helped me to formulate the ethos of never putting limits on Rachel just because of her deafness.
Bill: I had several mentors at work and church who guided me with family concerns. There is one individual who was, and still is, inspiring when it came to guidance about deaf life. My friend Roger is a man with a progressive hearing loss who became immersed in the deaf community later in his life, and who offered sign language classes to many people. We often met for coffee on Saturday morning to catch up on life and to support each other. He taught me so much about deafness, deaf culture, and service to others, and not only offered advice but would also lend an ear when needed.
Rachel: I can’t pinpoint one mentor, but I do remember a number of counselors and staff members I met at deaf camp when I was young who gave me a positive image of how to be deaf in the world. I think it’s very important for young deaf and hard-of-hearing children to have access to older deaf role models. I’m still meeting deaf role models in a variety of places as I move into adulthood, and their influence on me is huge. (I say this, even if I would add that I have had many positive hearing role models, too.)
Q: What piece of advice would you most like to give to hearing families with deaf or hard-of-hearing children?
Irene: It’s important to be mindful and intentional about communication with a deaf or hard-of-hearing child. They receive limited incidental learning by overhearing what’s going on around them. So do take time to fill them in, even when it means explaining things that seem like they should be obvious. And be as inclusive as possible so the incidental becomes the intentional.
Bill: Treat them as you would any other family member and include them in everything and anything. Learn as many communication skills as you can, and apply them as early as possible. The first few years of your child’s life are the ones in which they learn the most. And last but most important: love them daily, and it will be rewarded in many ways.
Rachel: Communication is key, and so is being inclusive and intentional. Find out all the information you can, not only from professionals but also from people who have lived it. Engage with a variety of communities and give your child options, based on what works best for that child and for the family. Discover your child’s passions, the things that light his/her imagination on fire, and enable them.
Rachel speaking at a TEDx event:
Rocky Mountain Deaf Theatre’s “Compelling” production of SILENT SALZBURG
From the moment our kids are born, our parenting journey is one of letting go.
Do you remember the first time you let go of your wobbly toddler for that first step? The first time you let someone babysit your child? The first time you let your teenager drive alone?
Letting go is hard. Letting go means we’re no longer in control of the parenting stuff.
When my daughter called me earlier in the spring, she informed me she was no longer going to pursue the college path. Her heart was set on acting and she wanted to find a way to pursue her passion.
“Ok, so what’s your plan?” I asked.
She didn’t really have one. She was going to come home after the semester ended and figure it out. She might move to New York City and live with her cousin. She might try and get a job in Los Angeles and live with a friend. She just knew she wasn’t going to go back to college. Acting school, maybe.
As a parent, I wrestled with a whole range of emotions. The parent side of me screamed, “oh-my-gosh-she’s-gonna-have-a-tough-life-without-a-degree!” The Passion Coach side of me calmly whispered, “let her have her journey, she’ll figure it out.”
My conversations with my daughter showcased the whole range of those emotions and thoughts. During one conversation, I was calm and rational, even positive. During other conversations, I brought out the “play it safe” cards and the “get your degree first–after that you can do whatever you want” rationality. I think I said some not-so-nice things.
“How can you tell others to follow their passions if you won’t let your own daughter follow her heart?” she asked me.
Yes, she called me on it.
And she was right. I had to let go. This was her journey. Even if I pulled the parenting card and insisted she stay in college, I knew it would create the biggest thorn between us. She had been miserable with school since fourth grade and we had plenty of battles over it.
As the end of summer rolled around, the plan was still unclear. My daughter even had moments of self-doubt, of wondering what direction to go in next.
Then out of the blue, she found an audition for Spring Awakening on Broadway. Without a single bit of hesitation, she booked a flight.
The moment she FaceTimed me to tell me the news, a swing role on Broadway, I suddenly understood why this process of letting go is so important: it’s the only way to grow.
I’m all too aware it could have gone the other way and the journey would have taken another twist and turn. That’s how it works, that’s how life unfolds.
Karen Putz is a mom to three deaf and hard of hearing kids. She resides in the Chicago area and is the Co-coordinator of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion at Hands & Voices.
More about Spring Awakening on Broadway:
Our oldest son is almost 20 – gone are the years of feeding his brain with language, modeling and teaching values and morals, nurturing his self-esteem, providing opportunities for him to discover and develop his identity…we’re pretty much done. And yet this job of parenting is never quite finished. I still find myself asking gently probing questions such as:
“So, did you tell your coworkers/roommates/professors about your hearing?”
“Should you perhaps call the audiologist and make an appointment?”
“Were you worried about losing your hearing aids (Bone Anchored Hearing Aids which are easily knocked off) when you went climbing up over huge piles of fallen trees across a river?”
It is a wonderful feeling, however, to hear our son sharing his story with others, and to see just how much he has embraced all that we have tried to teach him over the years. I love it when he tells families about his hearing loss “I find that if I’m OK with it, other people are OK with it too.” He is so comfortable in his own skin, and doesn’t hesitate to show families his ears and hearing aids (he has microtia and atresia, so his ears are a little smaller and differently shaped than most, and he wears bilateral Baha hearing aids).
It does feel a bit strange, though, to be stepping back. I am still working out this new role of parent to an adult. I’m learning it’s fine to ask how a course is going, but I really shouldn’t be asking or reminding about homework and deadlines. I can ask about the accessibility of a lecture theatre or the use of assistive listening devices, but our son is now the judge of what he needs, and it’s no longer my role to advocate for him. The lines of communication are still open, but I am learning to follow his lead.
So I am gradually letting go of the role I have embraced for 20 years, as the parent of a child who is hard of hearing. In some ways it’s nice to let that piece go. On the other hand, I have spent years learning about hearing loss, how to parent a hard of hearing child, how to advocate…it would be a shame to let all that hard-earned knowledge and experience go to waste. So I’m very thankful that Hands & Voices allows me the opportunity to share what I have learned, and support other families along their journey. I love this organization!
BC Hands & Voices
More posts from Teresa: BC Hands & Voices Teresa Kazemir
The blogs listed below are written by parents of deaf and hard of hearing children. The blogs are shared as a resource for families with deaf and hard of hearing children and do not indicate an endorsement by Hands & Voices.