Posts Tagged ‘Hard of Hearing’

Clare Patterson: There is Beauty in Everything

March 6, 2018

clare patterson HV story

It is strange how the human brain doesn’t notice slow disappearances over time. Sure, our brains are well attuned to rapidly changing conditions but woefully inept at noticing small changes.

My life so far has been a string of “un/lucky coincidences”.

This is why I wasn’t diagnosed with hearing loss until I was 18 and a first year student at a selective liberal arts college.

Rewinding a bit, when I was born in 1986 there was no newborn hearing screening. My parents thought I was “advanced” because by 6-8 months I would mimic adult conversations except I didn’t make any sounds.

School came around and I was lucky that my neighborhood school had Deaf and HOH integrated mainstream program. I began learning ASL when I started kindergarten.

I needed years of speech therapy, yet my hearing wasn’t tested. I remember emerging from the city mandated eye testing in tears because I failed so horribly that the lady administering the test tapped me on the shoulder and told me I was “supposed to be looking for the numbers”. What numbers? And how telling was it that she had to tap me on my shoulder to get my attention?

The first hearing test I remember having was in 5th grade. Until then I had excelled in all my classes and had been in special education for both speech therapy and gifted classes. All my classes except the very small gifted class had interpreters. I really don’t remember how much I relied on them but it was enough that when I transferred to a private school for 6th grade, I noticed a distinct change in my social life.

The middle school social milieux absolutely revolves abound inside jokes and I was lost. The disparity between my public school and private school was so pronounced that I and the other two “scholarship girls” in my grade had tutors for between a year and 4 years each. I had a formal tutor for one year.

Eventually, and with the help of amazing teachers, I became a great student at one of the best college prep schools in the South. I started winning awards for Latin (I refused to take a spoken language because I’ve always had trouble pronouncing words), art, writing BUT I was alone in my own world. I ate lunch alone daily, often venturing outside even in the cold so that I wouldn’t be so conspicuously out of place.

Class size was so small that I could keep up in class but where the real action of an all girl’s high school happens in whispered jokes and quips.

I missed all of those and looking back, despite our school being located in an Episcopalian church, when I was on those awful training runs for soccer or lacrosse, or walking to my friend’s house a few blocks away, the ringing of the bells on the half hour and hour just disappeared. One time when walking with my friend Connor to her house barely a mile away, she mentioned that it was “3:30”. “How the heck do you know that? You refuse to wear a watch!” I implored, incredulous that she thought she could tell time without a watch. She slowed down her walk and said “the church bells just rang!”. “Oh, yeah. They did”, I replied sheepishly but my stomach was in knots realizing that just a block or two from school, I couldn’t hear the bells, the ringing of the bells.

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Like all things good and bad, high school ended. I had received a full scholarship to my number one college choice far, far away from my home.

I moved, with many unexpected tears, to a small liberal arts college quite literally in the middle of a cornfield in rural Iowa. Within my first month I had gone to the nearest “city” (more like a town with a K-mart AND a Walmart) and was diagnosed with mostly flat sensorineural hearing loss that was moderate. Hearing aids were ordered, during fall break I came back home and saw a big city ENT doc who repeated the hearing test and did a CT scan looking for any other explanation for my aberrant test results but, the results were accurate, the new ones were even a bit worse. I had moderate SNHL (sensorineural hearing loss). My parents started piecing together anecdotes from my past. My mishearing of song lyrics, the utter lack of skill needed to sneak up on me, my seeming inability to be social at large family events.

When I returned to school my three best friends borrowed a car to drive me to the audiologist nearly an hour away for my brand new BTE (behind the ear) hearing aids to be fit. They took advantage of the shopping in a town twice the size of our college town while I discovered that paper rustling is an annoying sound and why people were always annoyed when I clicked pens. I was absolutely aghast that paper made noise and pens clicking was actually annoying.

That was all in the first semester of college so for most people I knew, me having hearing loss was normal. My college purchased an FM system for me, back when the advanced FM systems consisted of two boxes, and I did the awkward “drop off the prof’s box and mic before class and hope they notice it”.

By my second year in college my friends began noticing that I wasn’t hearing as well as usual and that my speech had become “blurry”.

I got a ride with a friend to the big town and found that my hearing loss had dropped to “severe”. My hearing aids were turned up and I could hear most things again. Life, as it always does, went on.

The next year I just borrowed a friend’s car and drove through the aftermath of a midwestern blizzard with snow piled higher than my lanky (at the time) 5’8.5″ on either side of the back roads I had to take. I didn’t take a friend this time, I knew that I had woken up one day almost completely deaf. Some of it seemed to come back but it was tenuous. I came back with my hearing aids maxed out, I turned on my borrowed car not realizing how loud I had the music for the ride up and that there was music playing in the borrowed car. Driving back I was disoriented, not by new sounds as I had been a few years earlier, but by how distorted things sounded. I spent the rest of my spring break at work fixing computers, or in bed. I watched as the snow blocked off the walkways from my dorm to where I worked across campus. The snow lasted longer than usual and piled up to two feet on my small prairie campus.

I could only scoff when people spoke about “hearing the snow fall”. What other BS did hearing people make up?”

I finished college and went on to work in infectious disease research while my hearing slowly dwindled. I still loved music but I only listened to bass heavy music. It was my ritual to remove my hearing aids at the end of the day, turn on Jimmy Cliff and turned up the volume until the bass thumped in my chest like a second heart beat.

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I then went to graduate school and in the January before my April thesis defense date I received a cochlear implant in my right ear. I was activated on Valentines Day 2014 and was overwhelmed by sounds I had never heard before. My audiologist was pretty certain that I had never had normal hearing. I went back to my apartment and put on a DVD of my favorite TV show just to have some sound other than roaring tinnitus. I went to work on the final draft of my thesis (“The Utility of Autologous Stem Cell Transplant in Newly Diagnosed Type 1 Diabetes: Reversing Autoimmunity and preserving Beta Cell Function”). While doing statistics I suddenly laughed. I looked up and saw the TV with captions, as always, on. I then paused the DVD and went back and replayed the previous scene. I couldn’t tell the difference between voices or really what words they were saying but somehow I heard the joke while reading the captions and laughed again. I understood speech after nearly 10 years of profound deafness. It was awkward, helium sounding speech but I heard it! I decided to have speech I was familiar with in the background for all the hours I was awake. Soon, I could tell the difference between male and female voices and then between different female and male voices. I defended my thesis, after much practice with my advisor on how to say “statistically significant” and was able to hear the questions from my professors well enough to, with a bit of guess work, correctly answer their questions. I also presented my research at the annual “Research Day” and even in a large open space with abysmal acoustics, I was able to answer questions about my poster. It was by no means easy but I did it.

Now I’m in the midst of applying to medical school. I’ve worked in a busy urban ER for the past few years and I’ve fallen in love with Medicine. I wrote the piece below two years ago. I think it illustrates the joy of new sounds:

You know that thing people do when a lightbulb goes out? The unceremonious unscrewing of the bulb and the shaking of it next to an ear?

I honestly never knew why people did that, I remember doing it as a kid, hearing nothing and replacing the bulb with a new one.

But just now, a light bulb went out in that spectacular millisecond of a brilliant bursting flash.

I reacted as always, unscrewed the bulb and held it to my ear and shook it. Nothing, normal, you shake the bulb, I don’t know why, maybe to make sure it is dead? Who knows? People do weird things.

Then I tried my right ear, the one with a cochlear implant.

I must have looked like a maniacal child just standing there shaking a bulb and laughing.

It makes a sound. You guys, it makes a SOUND! A beautiful sound. A sound of distant church bells ringing out (The ringing of the bells. The bells, the bells.)

It’s a tinny sound, an echoey sound. You can hear the little tungsten coils bouncing around, you can hear when they settle at the neck of the bulb and that sound is different from the sound they make leaping off the sides of the rotund side.

Did you know that makes a beautiful sound? It does.

I’m still smiling. I heard something that I don’t think I’ve ever heard in my life and it was beautiful. It was mundane and everyday and boring to most, but it sounded so beautiful to me.

There is beauty in everything. Sometimes you just see it for the first time and sometimes you need to be surrounded by darkness to see light of a burned out bulb.”

I’m still D/deaf. A cochlear implant is a tool and an imperfectly perfect tool. I still sign when I want and occasionally use an interpreter but I can hear things I’ve never heard before.

 

Clare Patterson

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Ellie Parfitt: How I Became Known as the Deafie Blogger

February 1, 2018

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My name is Ellie Parfitt and I’m known as The Deafie Blogger.

I was born with a bilateral profound sensori-neural hearing loss, into a hearing family who had no experience of deafness. It wasn’t until I was 9 months old that I was diagnosed, and I received my first hearing aids at 10 months.

My family decided to try and teach me to speak, rather than sign language because they had no knowledge of deafness or family members who were deaf. They didn’t receive much advice on communication choices. My Mum was struggling with the diagnosis, even to the point of not accepting it, so speech to her was the only choice at the time. Nowadays, there appears to be a lot more information, so hopefully a family can make an informed choice, what is best for the child and the family.

It was only years of constant repetition, support from my Teacher of the Deaf and Speech Therapy sessions that I’ve managed to get my speech to where I am today.

I attended mainstream Primary and Secondary School. I was the only deaf girl at school, which meant engaging with my hearing peers was difficult. I was a fun, sociable person and was always up for making new friends. However, being among hearing teens meant that society was quite judgmental. There were times that I came home from school upset, because my friends left me out of group conversations. My amazing Mum kept telling me that they’re not worth it, and to focus on school work and they might not be the right friends for me.

Although I had a Learning Support Assistant/Notetaker at school, all the time after school and at weekends were spent catching up on school work and going over things I didn’t understand. Eventually, all the hard work and determination pulled off and I am so proud of the grades I achieved, including top grades in German and Media Studies.

Looking back, I’d love to tell my teenage self that all that work has paid off and those so-called ‘friends’ weren’t worthy of my time or friendship. Now, I have jobs that I love and true friends who actually care about me and are accepting of my deafness.

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In 2015, I became quite frustrated of life with a hearing loss, the challenges and obstacles that I kept facing. I was looking for other deaf role models to see if I could read anything to help me, but I couldn’t find that person. I also desired somewhere to express my thoughts, so my boyfriend suggested writing a blog.

That’s when ‘Deafie Blogger’ was born. I write about my life as a deaf person, different experiences and challenges that occur, and how I overcome obstacles. I noticed that people were commenting on my blogs of how they could relate to my experiences and that they were glad they weren’t the only one. This motivated me to keep on writing and inspiring deaf people.

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I got invited to deaf events and presentations, and I realised that some deaf people were signing to me, but I didn’t understand what they were saying! I was then intrigued about the language and I joined a class to start learning British Sign Language. Even the little signs I know, I’m able to have a small conversation with some people which is quite rewarding.

As well as working in Marketing and blogging in my spare time, I love campaigning for deaf rights and raising deaf awareness everywhere I go.

Living with a hearing loss can be challenging at times, but it’s important not to let it stand in the way of achieving your goals. My motto is: ‘Deaf people can achieve anything they dream of, given the right support!’

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You can read my blogs here: www.deafieblogger.com

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On Death and Dying–And Deaf and Hard of Hearing Kids

January 23, 2018

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When my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I didn’t give it much thought. The prognosis was very good and the treatment was quick. My three deaf and hard of hearing kids were pretty young at that point and I actually waited to share the news until their grandpa was well into treatment. There were a few questions which I answered and life went on.

The second time around, my dad was diagnosed with Stage II Esophageal cancer. This time, the kids were teens. So from day one, they were involved and informed. We were optimistic that the cancer could be contained. My dad, a former Marine and World War II vet, approached chemotherapy like a war and hunkered down for the fight. The following year, a PET scan and blood work came back with good news: the cancer was in remission.

It didn’t last long.

When we arrived at the point when the doctor gently suggested hospice care, my siblings and I were all still deep into denial. Even after the hospice care nurse left, we figured hospice was something “down the road much later.”

Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. It’s a coping mechanism that kicks in when you’re not ready to face what’s happening in front of you.

So we kept paddling down that river. Of course, I didn’t tell my kids what we were facing, because I was deep into denial myself. My dad was in a wheelchair at this point and we had a hospital bed set up in the family room.

The kids started asking questions to which I had no answers for.

Is he dying?

Will he get better?

How long will it take for him to be able to walk again? 

When my brother and I took my dad to the doctor, reality finally hit. I cornered the doctor in his office and asked him how much time we had left.

“I don’t think it’s days or weeks, but maybe…months.”

Yes, reality hit.

The only way to tell the kids was to gently but clearly tell them the news. I don’t even remember how or what I said, I just remember the sad looks on their faces as the reality hit them too. They had never experienced the death of anyone close to them and this was all new.

As painful as it was to see my own kids grieve and cry, I stopped trying to be the “strong one” and just broke down too.  Expressing what you feel is an important part of loss. Our greatest danger with handling the emotional pain comes from stuffing it inside and pushing it away. Deaf and hard of hearing kids–any kids–need to see what we feel. The healthy thing to do is to feel every aspect of it–let it out, let it flow. Go into the pain, instead of away from it. When kids see their parents handling life from a place of raw emotion with recovery, they too, learn that it’s okay to feel, to express, to reflect.

One of the most helpful things for my kids to get through the loss of Grandpa was to reflect on their best and funniest moments with him. We sat and shared stories. We also talked about the dark times as well. Anything and everything was on the table to be asked. Of course, depending on the ages of your kid/s, you’ll need to adjust your language in a way they can understand and process.

Keep it simple.

Keep it truthful.

Death and dying tends to be a subject we want to dance around. Instead, be upfront with your kids–see it as part of the celebrating of life, the imprint of one soul on this earth.

dad dying

 

Karen Putz is the Co-Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion at Hands & Voices. karen@handsandvoices.org 

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Julia Resciniti: Surfing in Silence

December 29, 2017

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As I stepped out of the car, my feet felt the sand. It seemed to express a revolt from my sandals as it gathered on my feet and wriggled underneath them. The sensation was so foreign compared to the sand-less climate of Pittsburgh that I had grown up in. The sand had demonstrated an abnormal desire to worm its way onto every floor, into every crevasse, onto all articles of clothing, and to my own personal annoyance, into the heart of every lock of hair. But in my youthful nature, I was heedless of the ubiquitous sand that my feet sank into at every excited prance, slowing me until it seemed that I was in a nightmare where the ocean waited just out of reach because I was simply running in place.

Despite the baleful sand, I flopped down on a pastel pink board that was laid on the ground by people in wetsuits. They orbited the board methodically, stopping to congregate around my parents, the perfect contrast to how I had sprinted through the same area.

I sat up, not to observe the conversation my parents were holding, I little cared for that. I looked at the other boards that I had neglected. Mine was by far one of the thinnest. Broad boards laid scattered around, interspersed with pink boards like the one I currently occupied. I embraced my pink board, glad for the skinny width and for the color that, being a little girl, occupied its place in my heart as my favorite. My cheek flat against the board, my hearing aid boring into my head as I wedged it between the surface of the board and myself, I watched with a mild interest as my parents conversed with the people in the wet suits. I raised my head lazily as my mom broke away from the group and neared me, seemingly unperturbed by the pernicious sand.

She recounted the conversation as I listened with the same mild interest I had exhibited before. Then, she produced a pamphlet that had been given to her during the conversation.  It showed a diagram of a person swimming in the ocean, as I was about ready to be, with arrows in assorted colors, all pointing to illustrate a different current, stroke, or something else I little cared for. My mom explained that the diagram elucidated what to do should I become caught in a rip tide. She asked if I understood. I understood what to do, so I answered with a simple yes. I understood that I should swim parallel to the current, that I should wait out the current, but the sweet innocence I possessed at the time didn’t understand the idea of a riptide. I understood that it was deadly, but I didn’t believe it, not really. I didn’t distrust the advice. I just didn’t attach any weight to it.

The only thing that had any allure for me in that moment was the ocean that churned and crashed on the horizon. Excited to wade into the inky blue, I began to pull my hearing aids from my ears, stopping as my mom told me the people in the wet suits would want to talk to us (several other kids had arrived by this time) before we would plunge into the ocean. As far as I was concerned, the only practice I would need with surfing I had already gotten from my neighbor’s old see-saw. I would scramble up on it and tip back and forth until one of my parents came to disengage me from the task that I had set myself to.

The lesson came soon enough for my restless soul. I sat with a feigned patience as the instructed explained, as my mother already had, what to do in a riptide. Then they explained how to pop-up. They laid on the board, chest on the rigid plastic, as if to do a push-up. Then, they did push themselves up, springing their legs underneath them and spreading their arms out, so they almost looked as if they were trying to imitate a hawk, circling, circling, circling. I put my arms to either side of my chest, pushed myself up, felt an exhilarating rush as my legs were suddenly there to catch me, and thrust my arms out to the side just as hawkish as was shown to me.

They said to do it again, which I readily complied to. Then, we did it again. I soon tired of the exercise, and again yearned to embark on the sea. My instructor came to me introducing himself as Matt. I said “hi” displacently, complaining to my mom that I wanted to go surfing. She looked to the instructor as he said that he was ready to take me out. My hearing aids were out before I knew what I was doing. The instructor was still talking, but I didn’t hear. The world was silent. Oh, so peacefully silent!

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“Go. Go. Go.” I was on my feet as the wave fizzled around my board. The smell of salt nipped pleasantly at my nose. I could taste the rushing sea air on my tongue. The blue was calming. The board was steady beneath my feet. The world was silent. The wave did not crash as it should have on my board. It was oddly fitting. I felt at peace as the coast sped closer and closer.

The board began to slow. I toppled off. The brown murk swirled about me when I opened my eyes with a sudden jolt of panic. The sand tickled against my feet. The board passed over me. I felt the panic ebb away as it was replaced with a wonder. Even the board’s shadow was so serene. I loved it. I felt the leash tug me towards the coast much in the way any dog would. The board was no longer over me. My lungs began to burn, so I lifted my head above the water. Another wave came, causing me to stumble for the coast. My instructor waded towards me. Before he could open his mouth to utter a sound, I was imploring him to do it again. He made a comment to my parents that I did not hear. As I scrambled on the board, I didn’t care about anything except surfing again. And so, we did.

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Every time he made a comment that I didn’t hear. I wasn’t bothered by this. In the past, anytime I had insisted to know the dialogue I found myself strangely disappointed. I didn’t know that he was impressed at my eagerness to do it each time. I still don’t know what my parents said in reply, but I do know the silence as I stood was amazing, refreshing as I smelled the salty air that can only be found on the sea. Without the sound, I had nothing to focus on but the amazing calm that only came when the sea raged around me, propelling me swiftly forwards. I didn’t mind not hearing. Even just for that moment, I was glad for it.

And I never did encounter a rip tide.

 

Julia Resciniti was diagnosed with moderate sensorineural hearing loss just before her third birthday. She’s currently in seventh grade at her neighborhood school where she’s been on high honor roll every marking period. Julia enjoys reading, sewing, and listening to music.

Julia is the subject of her mother’s book about parenting a child with hearing loss, Magic Ear Kids, available in print and kindle editions from amazon.com Magic Ear Kids.

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My Ear: New Speech to Text App

November 30, 2017

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A father and son team, Gerald and Brandon Isobe, teamed up to develop a new speech-to-text app called “My Ear.”

Gerald was born deaf and grew up in Hawaii. Day after day, he sat in class and had to lipread his teachers. He borrowed his classmates’ notes and studied what he could from books. In high school, Gerald was inducted into the Sports Hall of Honor for golf and graduated 299 out of 801 students. He went on to attend Rochester Institute of Technology to study accounting and became the first deaf person to graduate with a degree. He was inducted into the RIT Sports Hall of Fame.

“Lipreading is challenging,” Gerald said. “I often nodded along in conversation to keep the rapport with hearing people, even when I didn’t full understand what was being discussed.”

Gerald learned American Sign Language while at RIT.

Gerald’s son noticed his father’s frustrations communicating with others, especially when seeing his father communicate at stores or with new people. Brandon graduated from University of Rochester with a degree in Economics–and he used his iPhone knowledge to partner with Gerald to create My Ear, an iPhone app that users can download and immediately use to transcribe what hearing people are saying from voice-to-text in real time. 

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After trying the app, Gerald was amazed at how much he missed out on in daily conversations. “If I had this app growing up, I would’ve been able to build my vocabulary much faster.”

“As a deaf person, he didn’t realize how much conversation he was missing out on, because hearing people simplified their sentences to make it easier for him to lipread,” Brandon explained.

One of the big advantages of this app is the use of the iPhone ear buds as a microphone. The microphone can pick up voices from about 20 feet in distance.

The father/son duo recently released another app: “My Talk,” which provides text-to speech output.

New App for the Deaf Designed by Father Son Duo

My Ear on Facebook

 

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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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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:

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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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