Archive for the ‘Thoughts on Parenting a Deaf Child’ Category

Coming Full Circle With Technology

December 18, 2017

Joneskids

Growing up, even as a child of the 80s, I’ve have never been great with technology. I can post pictures on Facebook and record my favorite Housewife reality show on my DVR, but nothing much more advanced. When our family began our journey with two children with hearing loss, technology was an idea that terrified me. As I began my research after our children were diagnosed, I quickly felt that without getting an engineering or medical degree in my spare time, I would never understand the explanations I was given for the equipment being used to identify their hearing loss–nor the technology being suggested to help my babies hear better. Our son Harrison was identified at birth and our daughter Alexis was correctly diagnosed at four years old after a misdiagnosis at birth.

I thought my involvement with hearing aids stopped at picking out cute colors, not learning a second-language to understand words like hertz, tympanograms, sensorineural, and cookie-bite hearing loss (a configuration of hearing loss with less sound perception in the middle frequencies). I felt like I was drowning in a sea of alphabet soup with all the ABRs, OAEs, ENTs, FMs, IEPs and IFSPs. Dealing with all of this while adjusting to being a new mom of three children all under age four was too much for my sleep deprived non-technical mind. For the first few months, I put the dreaded “T” word out of my mind, vowing only to deal with it on an ‘as needed’ basis as they entered school.

As the years went on, and my kids got older, I noticed how my lack of knowledge for technology was limiting them, both in and out of the classroom. My children were having problems with their FM equipment in their schools, and I didn’t know what other options there were. My son was beginning to struggle hearing his soccer coach as the fields got bigger and instruction was coming from further away. My daughter began to shy away from popular adolescent activities such as talking on the phone and going to movies because she could not hear the words clearly. I watched how different my middle son Cole, who has typical hearing, was moving through life compared to my two kids with hearing loss.

Motivated by Necessity

I decided it was time to embrace my fear of technology and, along with my children, learn all I could. I began researching personal FM systems, personal closed captioning devices, closed captioning devices available in public areas, captioned telephones–anything I could find to help bridge the gap so my kids could participate as their peers did. Along with community organizations, school professionals and various websites, other parents of kids with hearing loss were the most helpful in sharing what worked and didn’t work for their kids and guiding me to available options. There has been lots of trial and error, and it’s still a dreaded task for me to research technology. Yet we’ve learned which movie theaters provide our preferred “rear view mirror” closed captioning devices rather than the “captioning glasses”. We’ve experienced which captioning devices are out of range in the balcony seats at our local playhouse. We’ve purchased personal FM Systems and devices to connect hearing aids wirelessly to TVs/music/computers for our children to use outside of school in various activities. We can’t wait for the weather in Las Vegas to cool down and we can wirelessly connect our stereo to the kids’ hearing aids at the drive-in theater so they can sit outside the car and still hear the movie! We’ve downloaded apps and received a telephone from a local deaf/hard of hearing services agency so they can have their phone conversations captioned. The kids have their own bed shaker alarm clocks to help with independence. While having access to all our technology definitely makes life easier, it does not solve all the issues my kids have faced. Simply knowing what options are available (and knowing our kids’ rights through IDEA and the ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act), my husband and I have had educated discussions with the schools and professionals and offer solutions to problems.

Finding A New Passion

To my surprise, all this technology I had been dreading for years wasn’t all that scary. The most surprising element in giving up my own fear was the fact that my daughter discovered her own passion for technology as it pertained to her personally having hearing loss. Beginning last year, our children began attending school at a STEAM Academy (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math). Our daughter especially began to embrace her hearing loss and used it as the basis for every technology based-presentation she could, including “The History of Hearing Devices” and “People Who Are Deaf/Hard of Hearing Can Do Anything”. She recently attended a Girl Scout summer camp focused on technology, and her final project was to code a computer game. While I can still barely turn on a computer without reading the directions, I was not only amazed she generated a “Choose Your Own Adventure” type game, but that she chose Heller Keller as the main character. She navigated her “Helen” avatar on journeys all over the world for other kids to learn about her experiences. Watching my daughter present this computer game she had coded by herself brought tears to my eyes. I remembered how terrified I was six years ago at not only the thought of how to raise children who had hearing loss, but also the responsibility of understanding the technology that tends to come along with our kids. In an instant, my personal journey with technology, while never-ending, had come full circle. Letting go of my own past fears was the true gift I can give to my children. And, thanks to my technology-creating daughter, I can now quote Helen Keller as saying; “Fear: the best way out is through.”
Editor’s note: Jones serves the NV Chapter as Guide by Your Side Coordinator.

 

This article and many more are found in The Communicator. To receive quarterly issues:  The Communicator.

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Janel Frost: Reflections on Communication Access at Family Gatherings

October 18, 2017

Janel & Mason for Holley

What follows is my own reaction to Dianne’s post as a parent of a child:

This is my son. It pains me as a mom to watch my son go through feeling so left out at family get togethers, however, I don’t know what more to do for him. I’ve encouraged many family members to try harder to learn a language that could help him feel more included all the while realizing that they may use this new language one or two times a year. My husband and I have both taken turns to interpret when needed, but it’s not the same as direct access to communication–and who wants your mom a part of the nerf gun fight with all the cousins?

So I take delight in the fact that there is a place where my son can go to feel connected and a full participant–with others who use American Sign Language. We encourage and take part in his comfortable, communication accessible world as much as possible to let him know he is not alone. It is in that deaf community that we understand how he feels in the hearing world, and we don’t mind one bit.

This is my son’s reaction to my post:

Wow, mom. Yes this is exactly how I feel. I love my cousins, aunts, uncles and my grandparents, but when we have get togethers, it really is hard for me. I want to join in but get lost in almost every conversation and I just don’t want to bother anyone and ask to repeat for the third time. Uncle Greg and I will go out on the porch or in the basement just to find someplace quiet so that we can talk one on one. I like that he does that for me. It does sadden me sometimes that all my family members don’t know how to sign. I am glad I have the deaf community. I enjoy being able to talk for hours without having to stop to repeat. It just feels so free.

Janel Frost
Director/ASTra Coordinator
Michigan Hands & Voices
(248)845-8762
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Jessica Stern: JUST GOOGLE IT

August 28, 2017

“Information helps you to see that you’re not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo who all have wept, who’ve all longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone but that you’re not really any different from everyone else.” -Maya Angelo

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In the 90’s, there was no Google website to go to when you wanted to search for tips on teaching your deaf child how to speak. There was no online forum where you could talk with other parents in your shoes in order to find out what worked for them. There was no app on your phone to help teach you ASL. Parents were left to their own resources and gut instincts, they were left with vague recommendations from their audiologists, and they were left with hand scribbled landline phone numbers of someone that had a deaf child.

My parents were in those shoes of not knowing what laid ahead for them. They had just been told that their 15 month old baby daughter was profoundly deaf in both ears as a result of Meningtis. They lived in rural Minnesota in a town of 1,200 people. The only deaf people in town were 80 years old or more. My parents desperately needed a family to empathize with and to relate with the issues they were going through.

The moment that gave them hope was getting a phone number for a couple in the Pilot Parent program. Dennis and Deb were the parents of a girl who also had Meningitis as a baby, and had been deaf for about 5 years. This family was the Morrows and they were our saving grace. Over the next decade, our moms became very close and learned to rely on each other. There were many phone calls to ask:

“Is this right?”

“Is this normal?”

“Tell me I am not ruining my baby…”

With everything they shared, the most important thing Deb told my mom was, “You will meet a lot of experts that will tell you what to do, but remember, the most important expert in her life will be you.” We were one of the lucky families, not everyone was able to find this type of guidance.

CHALLENGES BEYOND THE FRIENDSHIP

No matter the motherly advice my mom received from this family, there was always still a lack of professional advice based on real life cases. One of her biggest struggles was that she was not sure what accommodations the school system was legally required to offer. In an effort to know more, she joined a state board in order to surround herself with others who knew more.

With this support system, she was able to understand so much more when it came to IEP’s and services. In fact, with the expertise of other board members, I was the first D/HH child in Minnesota to have the public school system help financially with an interpreter within a private school. I did not stay long at the parochial school but it was something that my mom’s hard work and research helped make happen.

A significant lesson that my parents learned right off the bat was that you can and should try every tool out there. Each person is different and each person will benefit differently. Instead of looking at different routes as successes and failures, they looked at them as crossing out the items that didn’t work and keeping the items that did. There were many things that worked for us, and even more things that didn’t.

“YOU WANT THREE QUESADILLA MEALS!?”

We had a rule they made when we went out to eat because dining out was a chance for my parents to teach me how to be assertive. This story often makes my parents seem like they did not care, but it is the opposite… They cared so much that they struggled to watch me go through the situation of dining out. They started me with this practice at a very young age.

When it was time to order, whether it was McDonalds or Perkins, I was left to fend for myself and it would be a conversation between the waitress and me. If questions were asked by them, I had the chance to smile and nod or I had the chance to ask them to repeat themselves.

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For many years, my dad did not order a meal for himself because they knew with certainty that I would not get the food I ordered and he could eat my food. In fact, when I was 16, I accidentally ordered three quesadilla meals instead of three quesadillas. That was a $48 mistake…

As a child, I was the picky eater who would order a cheeseburger with no mustard, no onions, and no pickles. After smiling and nodding at the clerk, my order would come with extra onions, extra mustard, and pickles. My mom would just hand me more money and send me off for a second chance.

For years it seemed like I would not learn, but slowly and surely I began to ask the waitresses to repeat their questions, I would tell the cashier that I was deaf, and I would repeat my order back if needed. Now, as a 30 year old woman, I am confident going through a drive through and telling them I will see them at the window to give them my order.

“I’M A BARBIE GIRL, IN A BARBIE WORLD”

Music was one of those things that we struggled with trying to figure out. When a kid with hearing aids wants to learn lyrics to a song today, it’s easy to go to MetroLyrics or Lyrics.com. A song can be played on repeat until the feeling of the beats becomes natural and the words become second nature.

I grew up in the days where radio was the source of music and songs could not be played on repeat on iTunes or YouTube. There was no way to look up lyrics beyond learning them from sound.

In true family love fashion, my parents and sisters came together to make music work for me. My older sister, Dani, would sit in the car and record the radio to a cassette drive. Then, my mom and dad would listen to the cassette and write down the lyrics on a sheet of paper. They would have to listen very carefully, mulitple times, in order to make sure they were on track with the words. To this day, my mom always laughs and says that no grown man should know the words to “Barbie Girl” by Aqua.

There are going to be challenges and there are going to be solutions. The solution might not be ideal, but there is almost always a way around it.

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THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT

If there is any advice I have for parents, it would be that the future is bright. There are so many opportunities out there for support and resources. I would be confident saying that my parents would be jealous of the options out there today as you begin this journey with your D/HH child.

Take advantage of everything you can get your hands on. Go to the family camps, try out the different technology options, follow blogs of those who have gone through this already, and never set limitations for yourself or your child. And if all else fails, at least you have Google, Siri, and Alexa to ask for help.

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You Can’t Possibly Provide Support Without Bias

July 24, 2017

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I was wearing my “What’s your sign? ASL” t-shirt one day when a friend pointed it out and asked, “Isn’t that showing your bias when you display your communication choice? I thought Hands and Voices was ‘neutral’ when it comes to favoring communication choices?”

There are often a lot of misunderstandings about supporting families with deaf and hard of hearing children without a bias toward communication choices. “You can’t possibly provide support without bias,” people often challenge us at Hands & Voices.  I frequently see the word “neutral” associated with the idea of supporting families. In fact, I wrote about it here: Neutral is a Shade of Color, Not an Organization.

If anything, the opposite is true. The people who become a part of Hands & Voices are pretty passionate about a lot of things when it comes to supporting families with children who are D/deaf and hard of hearing. When you truly operate without bias–you are able to join a variety of organizations, mingle with people from every communication experience, be comfortable with every combination of choice, and open-minded about the experience of raising D/deaf and hard of hearing kids. No one blinks twice when you attend an event centered around a certain communication philosophy or technology. Because at Hands & Voices, we know that the more you learn, and the more you experience, and the more you open your mind–the more you can provide to families on the parenting journey.

Here’s more on Supporting Families without Bias.

Yes, you CAN celebrate your own experience, choices, and journey. You CAN share your expertise and experience in ways that do not manipulate another person’s journey. You CAN mentor/guide/educate without the intent to manipulate, belittle, or manage a family’s experience.

I have often said, “My journey does not define your journey.” Families can take what they want and need from my experience and frame it into ways that helps their own experience. There’s quite a difference in saying, “Let’s explore ways you can provide communication access for your child,” versus “I think you should provide your child with _________.”

You can take the journey “with” the family, not “for” the family.

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In my early days of being a Deaf Mentor in early intervention, I had families who opted for cochlear implants for their child. They asked me questions that I didn’t have answers to–I had hearing aids. So we learned together. I brought in others who could answer the families’ questions. I went above and beyond to learn everything I could. I went to the hospitals and provided support before and after surgery. That’s just one example of how you can provide support along the journey–even when the family’s experience is quite different from yours.

When people meet me, they often make assumptions based on my expression of communication. They usually throw me in one communication camp or other, based on what they see/hear at the time. What saddens me is that I come across this communication marginalization almost on a daily basis. Through my work with families and young deaf and hard of hearing adults I see this happening all the time: separation, judgment, and segmentation based on communication skills and choices. I’ve seen families torn to shreds on the web about the choices they make for their D/deaf or hard of hearing baby/child.

It breaks my heart.

I believe in the mission and the purpose of Hands & Voices:

Hands & Voices is dedicated to supporting families with children who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing without a bias around communication modes or methodology. We’re a parent-driven, non-profit organization providing families with the resources, networks, and information they need to improve communication access and educational outcomes for their children. Our outreach activities, parent/professional collaboration, and advocacy efforts are focused on enabling Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing children to reach their highest potential.

I’ve said this before, and I share it here again:

At any given time, Hands & Voices is whoever is a part of the organization. Families and individuals are not the sum of their communication experience and we don’t identify our Hands & Voices organization merely by those choices. We do our best to include everyone who wants to be a part of the movement of providing support without bias to families. Whenever we stumble along the process, we try harder yet again. The bottom line is to support families along the journey of raising deaf and hard of hearing children. We all have the same goal in mind: well-adjusted, successful kids.

As for being “neutral,” to me, that’s a shade of color, not an organization. What I love seeing instead is an organization that is passionate, vibrant, and colorful– an organization which is made up of amazing, diverse families, professionals, and individuals who celebrate the many different ways there are of being Deaf/deaf and hard of hearing.

Now that’s Hands & Voices. And I invite you to be a part of it.

www.handsandvoices.org 

Karen Putz

 

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Kathy Loo: Learning What is Best for My Son

June 26, 2017

Growing up, I never saw myself being the parent of a deaf child. Although my mom and brother are hard of hearing, it was never more to me than just part of  who they were. It wasn’t even that big a deal in my household.

The only deaf person I recall knowing aside from them was a friend from high school.  But again, it was just part of who he was.

We didn’t even think much about deafness until we started learning sign as a communication bridge for our youngest children. We started learning to sign when our oldest daughter was one year old and I was about 4 months pregnant with our youngest.

After we started learning we wanted to know more. We became involved in a deaf ministry near our home and started taking classes through Sacramento State.

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Little did we know, it would lead us to deaf adoption–and three years ago we brought home our son. Lots of time during our adoption process was invested in trying to figure out what was right for us. Everyone had an opinion. We even had some strong ones of our own, but that all changed the day we met him.

Suddenly it wasn’t about what was best for us, but what was best for him. It wasn’t about what we envisioned, but the potential we saw in him. Our first night with him he was so starved for communication that he soaked up around 65 signs.It was impressive  the amount of language he  gained in those first two weeks, after 8 years of minimal language.

At some point early on with us he discovered there were two worlds going on around him. Until he saw us signing with him and talking with each other, I don’t think he realized that sound actually existed.

He became enamored with the concept of sound and discovering how it works.

At that point we began to question our own biases. This was all unraveling as we watched a friend struggling with outside opinions of her son getting implanted. Was that a battle we even wanted to tackle?

We realized that no one had to answer to him but us, about what tools and opportunities we did and didn’t provide. We decided that any issue someone had based on a choice we felt was right for our child was not our problem, but theirs.

We opted for the implant and he was well on his way to discovering a world with sound. Unfortunately,  it malfunctioned a few months in, despite every effort to correct it.

We’ve since opted to do a 2nd surgery to see if replacing the internal equipment will correct the issue. We are optimistic, but no matter what we know we can stand before him and say “The only thoughts that mattered were yours. We followed your lead.”

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The most important things we’ve learned through this whole journey are:

  1. That WE are the experts in our child. No one else has been assigned the duty to love and care for him and provide his physical,  mental, emotional, and linguistic needs.

  2. It is important to surround yourself with people who support, love, respect, and understand you. Even if those people haven’t or wouldn’t make the same choices for their child that you would. They fully understand that you have the most skin in this game. No matter what, as parents we always do the best we know how and we will never get it perfect.  Despite what others think, no one has a perfect answer for raising ANY child.

  3. Every child is different. Even if they are in the same household.

Remember, we started signing with our oldest daughter. At the time, she was believed to have normal hearing. That has since come under question in the last year. The supports we provide for her aren’t the same as for our son.

There is no one size fits all. They have completely different needs and what would work for one isn’t as helpful (if at all helpful) for the other.

I encourage you to stay strong, be your child’s loudest advocate, and know that it is okay if you switch gears or make mistakes.

As parents of deaf children, we face challenges that most other people don’t have to consider in everyday life. The only thing we can really do right is to give it our all and hope for the best. Most of all, know that your best is going to be different from someone else’s and that’s okay. 20160131_142735-1

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Elizabeth Albers: Language in Any Form is a Beautiful Thing

June 12, 2017

We are the Albers Family, a homeschooling family of nine with two children who have severe to profound hearing loss. We entered the deaf/hoh world three years ago when we adopted our son, Matthew. He was five years old with severe hearing loss. We were told that he could hear and talk with the help of his hearing aids. We thought, Okay, we can handle that! We knew that his hearing loss might be worse than what was presented in his file, but we clung to the hope that he could hear and talk with his hearing aids. We began learning some sign language, and researching deafness. We had moments of second guessing ourselves, but ultimately we knew he was our son and that we would do whatever was needed to help him.

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The day we got him was a whirlwind. He came to us showing us pictures we had sent to him. He had no hearing aids. They told us they were broken. That first day he soaked up what little sign language we knew. We remember his first signs, same and different. We knew we had a smart little boy on our hands.  The next day they brought us his hearing aids with no batteries. We managed to find some, and we were so hopeful when he put them in his little ears. He knew exactly what to do.  We tried all the noises we could, there was no response. Our hearts sunk a little. That night, while in China, we got on lifeprint.com and started taking the free on-line courses for ASL. We knew we needed to up our game. This little boy was taking in all the ASL that we could give him. He wanted to know the signs for everything. He was soaking up language for the first time, and he was so excited about it. We wished we would have learned more.

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After bringing him home we started private ASL lessons with a deaf tutor, continued to learn through lifeprint.com, scoured our county for deaf people (there weren’t many), met as many deaf people as we could, did hours of research on the computer and went to multiple audiologist and ENT visits. After several months with new hearing aids that were helping him just a tiny bit, we decided to explore Cochlear Implants. We were torn, because there was such a divide on what the right thing to do is within the deaf/hoh community. Ultimately, after lots of prayer, watching Rachel Coleman’s “One Deaf Child” , and doing more research, we knew we wanted our son to try it. Ten months after being home he was activated. At first he didn’t like the sound, but he grew to enjoy new sounds over the coming weeks and months. I remember about a month after being activated, he heard the sound of a bird chirping outside, and he wanted to know what it was. We worked closely with our audio-verbal therapist who was able to help us know how to teach him to listen. His speech began improving significantly. We knew we had made the right decision.  We’ve continued with English, using sign language when needed. He’s learning to read and write at home and is quickly catching up with his peers.

Fast-forward 3 years. We are now home with another profoundly deaf son, Isaac, who is 4 years old. He was adopted 7 months ago with no language. Unlike Matthew, he had profound hearing loss. There was no hope of hearing aids helping him. But we were more prepared this time. We had so many things in our tool belt. We had a better knowledge of ASL and the deaf/hoh world, we knew the resources that were available to us, we knew what the journey to Cochlear Implants would be, and we had even learned Cued Speech by going to Cue Camp Cheerio. We decided to pursue cochlear implants and got the ball rolling with that right away with our ENT and audiologist. Right now he has been activated about 7 weeks. He’s starting to respond to our voices, but still very far from understanding speech. Since we knew that we wanted to give him access to language right away, we started with sign language from the moment we met him. He quickly grew to expressively use over 150 signs. His first sign was car. He loved looking out the cars through our hotel room in China. Once he had a good grasp of basic signs, where we felt like could effectively communicate his needs to us, we moved to using cued speech. We’ve focusing on using and teaching him cued speech for six weeks. Our whole family knows the system and continues to work on fluency. Receptively he understands a many of the basic phrases we use, and expressively he knows about a dozen words. Every day he adds a few more words to his vocabulary. It’s quite amazing to see his progression.

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This journey has not been simple. There have been ups and downs. Moments of self-doubt. But we keep going. We keep learning and doing what we feel is best for our deaf children and our family as a whole. We’ve learned that the process is always changing and growing too. Their needs may be different year to year. We’ve had to, sometimes, ignore the voices around us, telling us what we HAVE to do for our children. There are an abundance of opinions out there when it comes to raising and educating deaf children! We have, more than ever, learned over these last 3 years that every child is different. There is certainly not a one size fits all or one language fits all or one education fits all when it comes to deafness. The biggest joy of this journey is seeing our boys, who had no language those first few years of their lives, pick up a new word through sign, speech or cue. Seeing their eyes light up with understanding is an amazing thing.

Language, in any form, is a beautiful thing.

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Support for Military Families with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

June 1, 2017

jenny and chelsea

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to be a military spouse? Have you thought about trying to explain the lifestyle to others?  How do you describe a life that is so far outside the experience of most others?  Which part of this unique lifestyle warrants a mention?  Some of us delivered a baby, raised our children, and continued on our lives while our sponsor (our active-duty spouse) was overseas.  Others made the move to a new duty station on our own so we could begin life there and make the transition back home easier for our spouse.  Nearly all of us have spent many months on our own, keeping our lives, and by extension, our spouses’ lives running.

Because we are so often on our own, in a new place, we tend to bond with those in similar situations.  There is beauty in the “sisterhood” that develops from sharing common experiences related to a marriage to a service member.  We understand the stresses and strains that go along with receiving official orders to move across the country or the world.

A Permanent Change of Station (PCS), – or move, for those of you not military-affiliated – begins months in advance, when the Active Duty Service Member gets a list of available positions, which they must rank in order of preference.  That preference is not simply about where you would like to live.  Discussions revolve around not only that, but also entail which positions would be advantageous for your spouse’s career, what schools and communities are like in the area, and, for those of us with children with special needs, where the nearest medical facility is that can handle our child’s needs.  After much discussion, the sponsor turns in his list to his branch manager or detailer, who actually places the service member into the assignments, based on the needs of that particular service branch.  Then you wait… often for months, to discover where you are headed.  Sometimes you get one of your top three choices.  Other times… you do not.  Sometimes, you get an assignment, only to have it changed weeks before the actual PCS.  Once the orders are actually cut, you are *usually* good, but you will never be sure until you are physically there.  Once you receive those final orders though, it is time to Google, research, reach into that rolodex and start making calls.

Now the fun begins – the actual moving process.  People say, “Oh, but you have packers who come and move everything for you. That’s great!”  Actually, while it is helpful in the grand scheme of regular moves, take a minute to think about how you would like three total strangers coming into your house and packing everything you own.  So… the day before the movers arrive, you hide everything you don’t want them to pack in a bathroom. This includes any trash, your IDs, clothes for the duration of your move, etc.  You tape a sign over the door that says “Do not pack” and then spend the next day following the movers around to ensure that everything is packed and labeled properly, and nothing that should not be packed accidentally winds up in a box.  All of this is happening while juggling babies and fielding phone calls.

The movers arrive, and 24 hours later, everything you own is boxed up and on their way to your new location. Your vehicles are stuffed with everything you need in the meantime.  You attempt to carve out room amongst the pillows, clothes, paper plates and assorted “keep the kids happy” toys to actually seat all the members of your family.  Little Susie surely will not mind holding that roll of paper towels for the duration of your 15-hour trip. Because only the items you specifically remembered to pull out of your house prior to the pack out are with you, you will make at least one trip to the store to buy a spatula or coffee pot (!!) that you forgot to snag before all of your household goods were packed.  As you can imagine, PCSing is a very stressful time for families.  Now, let’s talk about how this applies to the family of child with hearing loss.

Remember when you first found out that your child had hearing loss?  How you embarked on a journey that meant adding many new people to your life: Audiologists, ENTs, SLPs, D/HH Specialists.  That is just the hearing portion of it.  If your child has other challenges, you worked your way through referrals and insurance, all while waiting for initial appointments for those specialists, as well.  For older children, you may have worked with your school district on an IEP team to determine what services your child needs to help them have access to all of their studies, as well as support during them.  Each new meeting is a little nerve-wracking as you work your way through understanding your child’s diagnosis and learning to relate to each member of his/her medical and educational teams, individually, in a way that (hopefully) is productive.

Once services started, each service provider had to build rapport with your child.  This means that it may have taken anywhere from weeks to months for your child to trust and respond appropriately to providers, especially if the child is very young or has other challenges.  Now, imagine that you get to repeat this scenario (minus the huge learning curve regarding diagnosis), every 2-3 years.  Obviously, the combination of moving coupled with ensuring care and services for your D/HH child can be incredibly daunting.

What if military families had a head start?  For as long as there has been an American military, families who relocate alongside their active duty member have become experts at finding “the best” in each new area.  These families are amazing at networking, for their own sake, certainly, but most notably for helping fellow dependents out.  The era of social media made this process even faster and easier.  The first thing most spouses do when their sponsor gets a new assignment is send a message off to anyone they know in the new area and/or those who lived there before.  For those dealing with special needs, the search is on for the best services in the area, the best school district, etc.  Usually, this involves friends introducing families to others in similar situations in the area.

What if we could cut out the middle step, and provide parents a forum to share current information about the area?  This information could carry over to families moving there in the future.  What a difference that would make for these parents, and by extension, their children in need of services?  This is the aim of Hands & Voices: Military Family Support.  Our goal is not to take the place of local Hands and Voice Chapters, but rather to offer support specific to those living the military lifestyle with their D/HH children.

Jenny Swan and Chelsea Hull, moderators of Hands & Voices Military Family Support

Jenny Swan holds a MAEd in Elementary Education, which she is currently using to homeschool her 5 children (4 hearing and 1 HH).  She enjoys reading, hiking with her family and gallivanting around the country in her “tiny home” on wheels.  Life is an adventure and she’s so thankful for the opportunity to live it! 

Chelsea Hull currently operates her own business as a freelance interpreter.  She first learned American Sign Language (ASL) from her mother, who was hard of hearing/deaf.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Deaf Education from Fresno State University and a Master of Arts Degree in Deaf Education from San Diego State University.  She has over 15 years experience providing classroom instruction, working with families of children with hearing loss and communication delays, and teaching developmental playgroups and baby sign language classes.

Chelsea specializes in teaching parents to utilize ASL signs and principles to improve their child’s speech, vocabulary and language usage, reduce problematic behaviors, and strengthen the parent/child bond.

Chelsea’s two children, both began signing at 6 months, and are now 4 and 2 years old.

 

 

 

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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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From Bystander to Believer: My journey as a Hearing Mother

April 17, 2017

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I am a hearing wife of a Deaf man and a hearing mother of four children, three of whom are Deaf. I was born in a hearing family with all hearing siblings. Although I learned a bit of sign language, and even performed a song in sign at my 8th grade graduation, I had never met a deaf person.

When I was fourteen, my sister, who was just two years older then I, was losing her hearing. She saw an audiologist, who gave her hearing aids, but my wise mother knew that there was something more, something better for her. She found a program for the deaf and my sister switched schools, started learning ASL, and using an interpreter. I didn’t want to be left behind! I started learning and my sister would ‘help’ me by not using her hearing aids on weekends and forcing me to sign with her.

Learning ASL led me to involvement in the ASL community; however I was reluctant to become fully involved. In college, I was a little bit involved with the deaf community and decided that I wanted to teach deaf children.  I became a huge advocate for Bi-lingual/ Bi-cultural education and looked forward to teaching. In my naivete, I said I believed deaf people could do anything hearing people do. I was convinced that I really believed it too.

In my senior year of college, I met my husband who was the ASL lab instructor. We started dating and just after graduating, married. When he felt moments of discouragement regarding his success in life, I encouraged him. I believed he could do anything he wanted to. . . except run a business of his own. His experience was in construction and that’s where he wanted to start out. Eventually he wanted to do something big that would inspire deaf youth to succeed.

The first few years of marriage were rocky as I finished my degree and started teaching and he ran into difficulties finding a steady job in construction. After much thought, he decided to go back to school, major in history and become a teacher.  I was secretly relieved that the big talk of starting a business had stopped. I knew he would be a wonderful teacher, and he had a passion for that. It would also provide us with a steady income. That’s what I needed.

Our first child was born and I worked full time while my husband attended school. My son was hearing and began signing at six months of age. We were a happy family.

Then, my second son was born deaf. No big deal, I thought. I still thought I believed that deaf children, and deaf adults, could succeed and do whatever they wanted. I had no idea how it (his birth) would shake my beliefs and my marriage.

My mind filled with questions and doubt.

What if he doesn’t want me as his mom because I’m hearing?

What if I don’t know how to teach him to read?

What if he never learns to read above the 4th grade reading level?

What if he says he wants to be a fireman?

How do I best support him?

Should he get hearing aids?

Should I make sure he has speech?

If he can talk, won’t he have a better chance at success in the future?

Only a parent understands the dreams and desires her or she has for her children. Only a parent can understand the gravity of having those dreams crushed. It’s natural for someone who gives birth to a child who is different than herself to grieve. But I was the hearing wife of a Deaf man! The hearing sister of a Deaf adult! The teacher of d/hh children! What was my problem? Didn’t I believe my child could do anything he wanted to?

I realized that as much as I had thought I ‘believed’ in the Deaf individual, it just wasn’t true. As much as I thought I had been truly accepted and enculturated into the Deaf community, I felt alienated. I was only a bystander after all.

After going through the grief and seeing a counselor who understood Deaf culture; making decisions and moving forward as a hearing mom of a Deaf child, I had nagging thoughts. Nagging, negative thoughts that would come to me as my little boy grew. They didn’t disappear as my 3rd child was born: a Deaf girl. In fact, they probably became a little worse.

I remember my son telling me, “I want to be a fireman someday.”  That was a moment when I put on a face without expression and said, “Ok! That’s awesome.” However, inside, my nagging mind was posing questions the whole time: They won’t let him be a fireman! He’s deaf! He can’t hear! How can he become a fireman? You are feeding him false hope! STOP! He also said he wanted to become a policeman or a soldier. I felt all of these jobs were impossible.

It was during this time that my husband began to dream again. He was in his Master’s program and doing a research project on Deaf Culture and History. He wanted to develop a poster that would show the world that Deaf individuals can and DO succeed, in many different careers. He finished that poster, (link “that poster” to www.deafsense.com/store)  featuring 48 deaf individuals in 48 different career pathways. To my amazement I saw on the poster a Deaf fireman, a Deaf police officer, and a Deaf ROTC participant. What? My mind went into shock. It couldn’t be. My husband must be wrong.

So I did my own research. I found that not only was he correct, but that these men weren’t the only ones who were changing the career field for my son. There were 50 documented firemen who were d/hh. There were other d/hh men who were serving on a police force. The ROTC participant is still lobbying to change the laws to where d/hh people could serve in non- combat positions.

At this same time, I began to go through a personal transformation. I began to see that I, with my bystander beliefs, was holding my husband, and my children, back from succeeding. It wasn’t his deafness that was holding him back; it was his insecurities coupled with my insecurities and beliefs that we couldn’t succeed in achieving our dreams.

famfence

The world today teaches us to settle for less than what we might want to achieve. The world says go to school, get a job, settle down, the end. Our hearts, deaf or hearing, tell us differently. They tell us to set our expectations high and go for them through whatever challenges beset us.

The truth is, we all have challenges we must overcome. As parents, as spouses, we have a huge impact on what our loved ones will attempt to achieve in their lives. Will we stand by, allowing ourselves to be bystanders because we are hearing? Will we give into the nagging thoughts and beliefs that life is hard, and that there are only certain jobs a deaf person can do, and our children just won’t be able to achieve their dreams?

Or can we reach into our hearts and find true belief? Can we open our minds to the possibility that others are changing the dynamics in the career world and that what may not have been possible only years before, just might be as our children grow? Can we begin to see that, in reality, it has always been possible?

Can we see that we can become believers? And through believing, inspire those around us to become believers too?

Come follow us at www.deafsense.com where we believe everyone can and should succeed!

Lynell Smith

 

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The “Letting Go” Moments of Parenthood

January 22, 2017

 

david as a kidWhen 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.

letting go

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.

steven at RIT

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

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