Posts Tagged ‘Hard of Hearing’

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
Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

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

IMG_1638

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.

IMG_1634

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.

IMG_1632

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

You Can’t Possibly Provide Support Without Bias

July 24, 2017

FullSizeRender (5)

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.

hands and voices babies

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

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

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.

FB_IMG_1490967753377

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.”

20161012_123816

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

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

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.)

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Savannah: My Deaf Journey

May 30, 2017

aid photo

Hey!

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

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

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

My kindergarten teacher named it “Tina the Transmitter.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Master ear

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

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

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

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

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

mydeafjourney2

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

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

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

<3 Savannah

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

From Bystander to Believer: My journey as a Hearing Mother

April 17, 2017

????????????????????????????????????

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

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

A New Book for Families with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

April 11, 2017

HV book

Maria Renninger recalls seeing the word “refer” flash on the screen after her baby girl’s hearing screening hours after birth, and wondered what it meant. “Refer to what? The operating manual?” She found herself wishing for an operating manual many times during her early years as a new mom and on her unexpected journey raising a child who is deaf or hard of hearing.

This is just one of the 26 personal reflections shared in a new book by Hands & Voices, We Are Hands & Voices: Stories for Families Raising Children Who Are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, from moms and dads raising children who are deaf or hard of hearing, with a few insights from young people finding their way, and six gems from women who are Deaf or hard of hearing themselves.

“It wasn’t cheating, it was playing fair,” notes Stephanie Olson, when her sister and brother signaled her how to get to home base during nighttime games in her neighborhood, in the darkness only imaginable far from city lights. Over time, hearing parents learn much from their children and from adults who have hearing differences that begin to shed light on what daily life is like, and CAN be like, when we begin to experience the world as our children do. Playing fair means understanding access and appreciating differences.

Knowing that there is no better way to connect than the art of story, four experienced moms (Karen Putz,  Stephanie Olson, Janet Des Georges and Sara Kennedy) put this book together to shed light on the journey and to celebrate our children, who teach us again and again that “the little things are not little at all,” just as author and mom Bianca Birdsey says about raising her daughters who are deaf in South Africa in her story.

bianca and girls

Here is what others are saying about the book:

“I was overwhelmed when our daughter was diagnosed as deaf, and I searched for the stories of other parents who had helped their children navigate through a hearing world and lead productive, fulfilling lives.  It was these connections, like the ones detailed in “We Are Hands & Voices,” that allowed me to understand that I was part of a larger, welcoming community.  The powerful insights and wisdom you will find in this book will inspire you.  I wish it had been around 16 years ago!”

– Lee Woodruff, parent and best-selling author

 

“Positive parental supports is an integral part of a child’s life.  Having the support of other families who have walked a similar path, well, that’s priceless.”

 – Andrea Marwah, parent and Illinois Hands & Voices, President

 

“One of the best outcomes of a book of stories is that it illustrates the varying experiences, individual characteristics, and often unpredictable paths taken by individuals and families. Stories break down walls. In this book you will find that it is not hearing status that defines who these people are; rather it is their life experiences that shape who they become.”

– Cheryl Johnson, parent and advocate, Co-Founder of Hands & Voices

 

“These deaf kids may have a hearing loss, but their hearing loss doesn’t necessary mean that it has, controls, operates or owns them. This book has great and incredible insight on how our hearing loss doesn’t necessarily define us, but that we define who we really are.”

– Justin Osmond, member of the world-renowned Osmond Family, motivational speaker and author

The digital copy is available on Amazon: HV Stories for Families

To order hard copies or bulk orders:

We are Hands & Voices 2017 order form (1)

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Karla Giese: My Life in Full Circle

March 22, 2017

karla 2

For me, being deaf is a way of life.  I was born hearing, and began losing my hearing as an infant.  My parents couldn’t get a proper diagnosis until I was almost two and then I was fitted with hearing aids.  My parents chose to raise me with an emphasis on spoken language, using speech therapy, hearing aids, and FM systems while being educated in the mainstream setting. My hearing became progressively worse and I became profoundly deaf by the time I was nine years old.

At that point, relying only on auditory information started becoming more and more difficult. By fifth grade, I began learning sign language and using an interpreter, which continued through high school and college.  I went to college and earned my BA in Deaf Education, Elementary Education, and Special Education.  I moved to the Chicago suburbs and began my teaching career working with deaf students who also had emotional & behavioral disorders and I learned a LOT about behavior management. At the same time, I began working in Early Intervention and became credentialed as a Developmental Therapist-Hearing (DTH).  Over the years, I went back to school to get my Masters in Early Childhood Special Education and have taught in a variety of schools including residential, self-contained, resource room, and itinerant services.  I had the opportunity to start moving into more administrative roles in the schools as a Curriculum Coordinator, Assistant to the Principal, and am now Director of Student Support Services in a Montessori School that has an embedded Cued Speech program.  In addition, I am also the Coordinator of CHOICES for Parents, a statewide parent support program for families of deaf and hard of hearing children.  Plus, I’m pursuing my doctorate degree in Special Education with a concentration in Deaf Education.  I am very interested in parent support, early intervention, language acquisition and literacy.

karla

I married a hearing man and together we have four beautiful children, all hearing.  However, two of them have been involved in the early intervention system and have had IEPs in the mainstream setting.  I feel like I’ve come full circle in my life in that I’ve experienced all educational settings and communication modalities, both professionally and personally.  I also feel like I’ve been on all sides of the table at the IEP, as a student, parent, teacher, advocate, and administrator.  

My personal and professional experiences lead me to the point that I most often emphasize when I work with families of deaf and hard of hearing children: when your needs change, your choices can change too!  Too often, people get stuck on one way to do things.  If something isn’t working, why not explore something new?  If something is working, why not add something new?  Because I can talk, sign, and cue, I have met so many different people and have had my life enriched in so many ways.  I am able to be a part of the hearing world, Deaf community and Cued Speech community.  There is no one size fits all.  There never has been!  What works for your family is what works for you and your child.  Keep an open mind and be willing to explore Sign Language, ASL, spoken language, and Cued Speech options!

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail

Rhonda Bergsma: And This Was the Easy Part

December 22, 2016

img_0346

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.

Whew.

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.

mitch-bergsma-baby
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.

mitch-bergsma

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 enough weather.Then his 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.

f44033cf-6732-4f0e-aa96-ca0e6f68de7e

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.

 

Rhonda Bergsma

Follow her on her blog, Deaf-initely Mitch

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmailFacebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestmail