Jessica Stern: JUST GOOGLE IT

“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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