Posts Tagged ‘parenting a hard of hearing child’

Valli Gideons: My Battle Call

November 7, 2018

Raising kids is hard. Add a diagnosis of hearing loss and you might find yourself thinking parenting is not for the faint of heart.

My children were born with needs categorized as “special.” They look like typical kids (with the exception of their devices) but they don’t hear like those with natural hearing.

Understanding and information are key.

Some things I recommend people avoid saying to a parent:

• My child also uses selective hearing.

Most people want to make you feel normal, only a hearing child’s experience is not the same as one who is deaf.  Sure, all kids use selective hearing from time-to-time, but kids with hearing loss experience sound much different.

According to an article written in Central Institute for the Deaf by Karen Anderson, PhD., when researchers examined fatigue in children with hearing loss they found that children reported a greater level of fatigue than those with typical hearing.

She goes on to say kids with hearing loss also exert more effort during listening tasks than their typically-hearing peers. Any degree of hearing loss, with or without amplification, requires a greater effort.

• I could never do what you do.

There are days I feel like I can’t do it or don’t want to do it. Only, that’s not an option. Throughout the years I have had moments I wished things were different. But, then I remember—this is us. And I wouldn’t change it.

• They use their hearing as an excuse.

Research shows fatigue experienced by children with hearing loss is substantial, even when compared to children with other chronic health conditions.

But, because hearing loss is invisible, the effects of fragmented hearing, listening comprehension, and fatigue are often ignored.

There are times my kids have bad behavior. This makes them typical. However; without proper listening breaks, they have a hard time regulating. Knowing the difference is the key.

• God gave you this because HE knew you could handle it.

I don’t think God gave this to me. I am sure He designed my kids perfectly imperfect.

• My (insert name) wears hearing aids.

Grandpa becoming hard-of-hearing late in life and getting hearing aids is NOT the same as being born deaf.  A grown person who takes off his hearing aids to tune out Grandma (perhaps humorous to some), in our world isn’t funny. And, it’s not the same.

Losing your hearing, at any age, can be isolating and difficult, and isn’t a joke.

• Your kids have progressed because they have matured.

This minimizes the countless hours of therapy and tough grind they have been through. To say they are thriving simply because they are older discounts all their hard work and oversimplifies something otherwise complex.

We don’t have it harder than most families. I’ve learned every person has something to overcome, whether invisible or not. And, in the end, we want our kids to be happy, kind, and a little uniquely special. Ultimately, what this mother of kids with special needs want others to say:

I see you. I see your kids.
Not just the special part.
THE WHOLE PART.

Written by Valli Vida Gideons on My Battle Call

This piece originally published here:

Raising kids is hard. Add a diagnosis of hearing loss and you might find yourself thinking parenting is not for the…

Posted by My Battle Call on Monday, October 8, 2018

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Rosabel Agbayani: The Road We Travel TOGETHER

August 15, 2018

The road we travel TOGETHER: Our Family Journey

By Rosabel O. Agbayani, MPH

“If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” -Mother Theresa

Sometimes we think that in order to make change we have to make a lot of noise. What I have learned from my experience of raising my children, and especially raising my deaf child, is that you have to be able to drown out the noise and listen to your heart.

We found out my son was deaf in September 2010. I’m not sure why I was so shocked because after almost six months of testing we finally had an answer. But I still remember that feeling when I heard the words “Your son has a hearing loss.” My heart sank, tears fell, and this overwhelming feeling of shock took over. The Audiologist had many well-meaning things to say. But I felt like I was in the scene of a Charlie Brown cartoon when the adults talking sound like jibberish. All I could focus on was “What was my son’s life going to be like?” “What is our family’s life going to be like?”

We came home from that appointment and I felt defeated. But with a six-month old infant, a teenager, and now a Deaf child, I had no time to feel sorry for myself. So I spent most of my time on the internet looking to find every answer to calm the worries in my head. We asked for second opinions, I went through parent training modules, but there was no place in the internet that reassured me that everything was going to be okay.

Reaching out to family had challenges of its own. Those closest to me felt pity for our circumstance. Pity was not going to help me, so I found myself getting angry with them and frustrated having to explain what I was trying to do for my child.

To further complicate the issue, in my culture and within the community of family, disabilities is not something to be discussed. Filipinos have a tendency not to share, for fear that if others realize our weakness then we, ourselves are perceived as weak and therefore bring shame to a family. So even in my own family I felt lost and out of place.

In fact, we lost a lot of friends and family along the way. Well-meaning individuals who would minimalize his hearing loss, or say things like “Well just get a set of Rosetta Stone and he will learn language like normal.” One of the most hurtful things I witnessed was at a family party when my nephews were playing a game of “Can you hear me now?” They would walk around my son asking him if he could hear them. Because my son is the playful type, he innocently went along with the game while they laughed at his expense. It was then that I realized the true meaning of “You must learn to walk away from the things that no longer serve you.” It was a painful but necessary lesson. Their noise was clouding my vision.

 

The first time I ever felt “normal” again was in February of 2011. We had just fought and won our first battle to get our son into the only non-public oral deaf school in our area (a story I will leave for rainy day). I remember clearly his first day, walking through the gates of Oralingua School for the Deaf in San Marcos, California. We were all welcomed and greeted by mothers who were so excited to see another child admitted to the program. There were only six children at the time and my son made the 7th student at the school.

I finally felt at home with our new community. When our kids were busy learning, the parents (we proudly referred to ourselves as the “Parking Lot Moms”) would gather at the local coffee shop and share our stories, retell how our children were diagnosed, explain how they got to the school, and their journey. With each story I heard, my heart felt at ease. Finally, I met another parent who understood me. I didn’t have to speak but just listen. Every word healed my soul. Till this day, these mothers are like my sisters and our children are like siblings from another mother.

I realized early on how important it was to have this kind of network when you are going through something unique and unfamiliar to you. Parents can benefit when we learn from each other. When we can listen and share the choices we have made with each other. We learn to open our minds to new ways that we can help shape our children’s future.

At the time when my son was diagnosed, I only knew three people who were Deaf. My Uncle (my mother’s youngest brother) who had been deaf since he was an infant, an Uncle who was late deafened as an adult, and a friend I met later in life. I asked so many questions at the time. I wanted to know what their lives were like, what challenges they had to overcome and how they got to be who they were today. Deaf adults have a significant role in our understanding as parents. I learned that they have something I cannot give to my child, an insight to the Deaf experience that was critical for my own understanding.

I especially remember talking to my friend and asking her about her hearing aids and school. I was so focused on the technical aspects and she kindly responded to all of my questions. She shared about her experiences growing up in the United States when her parents found out she was deaf. Her mother sacrificed everything she had, left her husband and their life in the Philippines, and brought her and her sister to the United States so she could have a better life. John Tracy Clinic had an international program at the time and she had the opportunity attend the school. It was then that I started to think that maybe our problems were not necessarily about my son’s hearing (I can never change that), but about giving our deaf child opportunities so that he can be the person he is meant to be.

As a parent of a child with special needs, you go through many cycles of joy, pain, confusion, and brief moments of clarity. Some days you just lose it, it comes with the territory. It doesn’t have to be anything significant that happens but some days are just tough.

I remember one day, it was just like most days. I was carrying my twelve-month old in my arms, dropped off my eldest at high school, and went to the hospital for one of my son’s many appointments. I must have been very exhausted because after one of my son’s back to back appointments I just sat in my car and cried. The emotions I held in my heart just suddenly overwhelmed me. Beaten and broken, I wanted my faith to show me a sign, anything to help me understand why life had to be so hard. I was never angry that my son was deaf but I was frustrated because I didn’t know if what I was doing was ever going to be enough.

Suddenly, my three year old deaf son (who had just learned how to put 2-3 word utterances together) looked at me, wiped the tears from my eyes, and said “Mom, why cry?” His sentiments made me smile. I just gave him a big hug. It was what I needed at just the right time. From that moment on I realized, there was NOTHING wrong with him. He didn’t know any differently that he was different. My answer was there beside me, telling me that I was doing EVERYTHING right. In his beautiful world he didn’t know he was “deaf”. All he cared about was that I loved him. I was the one who was broken and HE was the one who fixed me!

Sometimes we get so focused on taking care of others needs that we fail to tend to our own needs! Our kids need us to take care of ourselves! It is as much a priority as our responsibilities as a parent! When you are on a plane they instruct you to put your own oxygen mask first before you do it for your child. I needed my air so I could breathe and think clearly. Then I could refocus and care for the needs of all of my children.

When I finally stopped feeling sorry for myself, I got myself together, and started focusing on my own needs. It had been six months since I got a haircut and it was one of the first things I did for myself. I forgot how good it felt to feel “normal”. Little by little our lives transformed and we found our “New Norm”. I made it to the gym, spent time with friends, and enjoyed my family time.

It was important for my husband and I to spend time together finding moments of joy with each other, despite the hardships we were experiencing. We squeezed in date nights when we could, even if it meant driving in the car till “The Littles” fell asleep to have ice cream cones together. It’s those sweet moments that I cherish the most.

My husband is a hard worker. He worked full-time to support the family while I was busy managing our family business, taking care of the kids, and driving to appointments. When I needed rest or a moment of sanity he gladly stepped in and did his daddy duties with pride. We spent a lot of time talking to each other as a family, having conversations about everything. We love to travel and we learned from our experiences together.

We knew that if we were going to help our son communicate with the world we needed to learn how to communicate as a family. Because when you have a deaf child, you become a deaf family. As with most families, the diagnosis of having a deaf child changes your life and the dynamics of a family. This was not our weakness, it only made us stronger.

My son’s diagnosis changed me too! I have always been a bookworm and self-proclaimed nerd. So when life settled to a comfortable pace, I went back to school and started online classes to earn a second bachelor’s degree in Communicative Disorders and Deaf Education at Utah State University. I graduated on the Dean’s List in 2013. I always felt lucky that I had the kind of training that most of my fellow classmates didn’t have. Regardless of my degree, I was a parent first. I used my new found knowledge and taught my son how to read and write. I learned to communicate with him and create opportunities for him to learn how to communicate with others. It was exciting to use the tools I learned and see my son’s progress. I was fortunate to have on the job training! This knowledge helped me create better relationships with his educators. I knew that if he was going to meet his goals, as a part of his IEP team, we needed to work together.

When my son was mainstreamed in our home school I decided to take a job as an aide in a Special Education classroom. I worked my way up to becoming a Behavior Intervention Instructional Assistant working with kids on the Autism Spectrum. I also volunteered at the local Children’s Hospital working with kids who were Deaf and Hard of Hearing. I also volunteered briefly for an Audiology office observing Aural Habilitation techniques used for kids with Hearing aids and Cochlear Implants.

My work experiences helped me have a different perspective compared to working with my own child. It helped me understand that professionals have a responsibility to heal, to habilitate, and to provide a service that meets a specific need for our child. But that does not take away from the real learning that comes from home. As a parent, our job is to meet professionals and educators half way. They hold the piece of the puzzle that we need to understand our own journey. It’s our job as parents to put the pieces together in a way that fits best for our family.

As a parent and a “wannabe” professional, I met Auditory Verbal Therapists, ENTs, Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Reading Specialists, and Deaf Educators and Specialists along the way who gave me different tools to use. I like to think of these moments like a trip to the “Special Needs Home Depot”, you can fill your toolbox with many tools and use it if (and when) the time is right. I filled my head with a lot of information, gave myself the opportunity to fill my toolbox as much as I could. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity of having something fit just right for my family or for the children that I worked with. My advice for new families is to always keep that toolbox open and learn as much as you can! Together with your child you can figure out what works best!

In 2015, I got my first job working on a research project studying outcomes of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children with Cochlear Implants. Having a better understanding of the CI candidacy process and collecting data from educators helped me understand the many different factors that can influence a child’s ability to succeed academically as well as communicate effectively. The bottom line (as a parent by this time I was NOT surprised) family involvement in their child’s education has a positive correlation to overall success.

Because I was no longer just on the receiving end of services, I gained a newfound appreciation of the fact that we all have different perspectives, but our hearts are in the same place. Professionals, even those who think differently, expect different outcomes, or provide a viewpoint different from ours also want the best for our children. We are more alike than we are different. I often think to myself, “Imagine how much we can accomplish as a group if we focus on the sameness and not differences.” Our children need us to work together.

Togetherness is a concept that speaks to the core of what it was like for me parenting a child who is DHH. It is a re-occuring theme in my life, in our journey as a family, and now for me as a professional. When everything was falling apart, I struggled to keep my heart, my family, and my community together. Some days were better than others and progress was not always perfect or prompt. What gave me hope when times were tough was realizing that along the road, I walked the journey with people (my son, my family, DHH parents, and everyone else that crossed my path) who reminded me that I was not alone.

It seems like a lifetime ago when my son was diagnosed. My son is now 11 years old, entering his last elementary school year in the 5th Grade. He has friends (both hearing and DHH), plays baseball (his favorite positions are 3rd base and catcher), loves Hip-Hop music, and annoying his two siblings. My eldest daughter, a senior at CSUN in the Music Therapy Program and President of the Music Therapy Student Association, hopes to pursue a career helping others with specials needs. My youngest daughter (who is now eight years old and grew up alongside our beautiful journey) has won awards at school for good character, recognized for being kind and having compassion for her fellow students. My husband and I can only look back and think about how far we have come. Married for 10 years and after everything we have been through, we live the truth of that “which does not kill you will only make your stronger”! Our lives have never been without struggle, but we wouldn’t change a thing.

Currently, I work as a Pediatric Clinical Research Coordinator for Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego, I serve as PTA President for my children’s school and on the Community Advisory Committee for Poway Unified School District. Most importantly, I remain committed to my role working with California Hands & Voices helping to build bridges between parents, professionals, educators, and others in the DHH Community.

Together we grow. While my son was learning how to speak, learn, read, write, communicate; I was learning too! When he struggled, I learned how to help him succeed. While his knowledge of the world around him grew into his identity, his identity defined who I am today. His deafness helped me learn how to listen to my heart and my heart allowed me to follow my passion.

Healing begins when you can find purpose in your pain. What started off as a desperate mom looking for answers has led me on a path where I have combined my real life experiences as a DHH mom with the knowledge of as a Professional. Because of this, I feel a responsibility to share my unique insight with others. Everyone has an important role to play. As Parents, Deaf Children, Deaf Adults, Medical Professionals, Educators, Researchers, and Advocates we all have the power to create a community for DHH Children and their families…TOGETHER.

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Rana Ottallah: Finding My Way Home

March 26, 2018

I have attended two Hands & Voices Leadership conferences and my first Early Hearing Detection and Intervention (EHDI) conference. There is no place on earth that felt like home than those three conferences.

Being a parent of Deaf/Hard of hearing child, with strong beliefs and convictions–is a lonely place. Single motherhood is a lonely place, strong advocacy for Deaf and Hard of hearing children is a lonely place, being a female community leader is a lonely place. All of these roles come with lots of emotional pressures, and the pressure to look strong and capable all the time. Educated , informed, calm, collected , on top of your game, and prepared for any and all changes of plans–at each and every setting.

The weight of responsibilities on my shoulders gets heavier and heavier by the day–I feel emotionally and physically drained. I feel lonely,and on my own. Nobody gets it or understands it.

Moms of Hands and Voices

The first time I attended a Hands & Voices Leadership conference, I met other parents and listened to their stories, I felt complete, whole and at Home. I wasn’t alone anymore. I felt the warmth of home surrounded by mothers like me, experiencing the same emotions and feeling similar pressure

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Things came into prospective and the vision became much clearer when I listened to other mothers tell their stories, share milestones, and share emotional highs and lows.

I realized that it is okay to feel down, overwhelmed, frustrated, but it’s not okay to feel alone when I am a member of the Hands & Voices home. There are hundreds of Hands & Voices mothers and leaders out there who get it, understand it, and are available to pull me up when I am down, wipe my  tears when I cry, and cheer me up when I feel helpless and frustrated.

I no longer feel alone, I found my way home.

parents of hands and voices

A home filled with Hands & Voices warmth, support, and unconditional love and understanding of parents and family struggles.

I am emotionally charged and ready for whatever comes my way. I am headed to my smaller home a better mom, stronger advocate, and more capable community leader with so much to give and so much to share.

Thank you Hands & Voices for bringing me home.

 

Rana Ottallah

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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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Elizabeth Albers: Language in Any Form is a Beautiful Thing

June 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Language, in any form, is a beautiful thing.

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Support for Military Families with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children

June 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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Janet DesGeorges: Embrace the Past, Change the Future

May 31, 2017

Janet in boston
I am the mom of a beautiful, smart, talented accomplished well educated Deaf/Hard of Hearing daughter named Sara.

Eighteen years ago, I sat in a meeting hall at an ASL Deaf retreat where the entertainment one night was a group of Deaf individuals who performed a satirical skit about the ineptitude of hearing parents of Deaf children.

I said in my heart, “I am hearing, but I am Sara’s mother.”

Twelve years ago, I sat in a medical conference surrounded by hundreds of physicians who were listening to a passionate lecture on genetics and deafness. At the conclusion of the presentation, the Researcher stated, “…and the eradication of deafness is at hand”, which received a standing ovation.

I said in my heart, “my deaf daughter will not be eradicated.”

Ten years ago, I sat in an educational conference surrounded by thousands of special education directors in the audience, and every time the presenter used the term ‘parent’ she put the word ‘angry’ in front of it.

I said in my heart, “that is not how it has to be.”

In my work at Hands & Voices, every day I am surrounded by parents of children who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, where we share the journey of raising our children – who desperately need the support of D/HH individuals, medical professionals, and educators to help us ensure success.

But you must capture and know our hearts if you want to partner with us in this journey.

(I know what you are thinking right now… man, she sure goes to a lot of conferences…)

Of course those are not my only stories. My life experience is woven with a rich fabric of deaf individuals who have come along side me, have not judged me, have sometimes challenged me in a good way, and ultimately helped me to open the door to my heart to make decisions for my daughter based on her needs as a deaf child, and look beyond the filter of my life as a hearing person.

There have been audiologists and other professionals who have come along side our family and supported our choices and also made technology useful and functional in the real world for Sara, and given her the freedom to use her technology when and how she wanted to, and to be in control of that as she grew up.

There have been educators who have stood up and demanded educational excellence from my daughter, from her schools and not backed down when it came to her communication access, and also provided me with the tools to be effectively involved in her education.

The thousands of parents at Hands & Voices have their own stories that have framed their journey, and though I am the one up on the stage today, I carry their stories in my heart as well.
Regarding Deaf Education….

DEAF education/deaf EDUCATION

I met a deaf educator who left the field of deaf education to immerse herself in traditional and new models of education for all students and came out the other end telling me that we must never minimize either of the words when talking about DEAF EDUCATION. We must never dissect these two aspects apart from one another. Yes our kids are Deaf (and this includes kids who are hard of hearing) AND yes, our kids need an education. Let’s call it: Deaf Education.

Not just the what, but the how.

It’s not just about what we know or don’t know about Deaf Education. It’s not just about communication, language, literacy, and social/emotional development of Deaf children. We must now advocate for these things in a system and a world where it’s not often understood.

But when it works well, it can be brilliant.

Here is one tiny snippet of one tiny issue during one tiny piece of a 13 year old’s day at school. A mom went to the school and said that she had been arguing with her daughter about homework every night. Her daughter said she didn’t have any. Was this a communication access thing? Was it a teenage thing? Was it a school thing?

It got worked out…

Every day, the teacher in the classroom, when announcing homework assignments said it both verbally, making sure she was facing the student (who used an FM system and lipread), and also then turned and wrote it on the board to provide visual accommodation. The student could also turn and look at the sign language interpreter who was also there for her. The special education specialist in the school had arranged with the general education teachers that homework assignments would come to him and then also be posted for parents to have access to, so that they could check in with the student and help with any homework as necessary.

When all team members are pulling together, access happens!

The Power Seat of Advocacy

I’ll always remember the father who called and asked if I could come to the IEP for their son. I knew this Dad, he was a high powered attorney. He told me that he had never been into a meeting like IEP meetings where he felt so discounted in what he had to say.

Even if the law provides for parents to be at the table we must continue to create a future where true collaboration exists, and where meeting the needs of deaf child is not something to be negotiated by teams who all have different motivations for what the outcome might be (fiscal, methodological, lack of information) but be based on that child’s needs, as an individual who is unique. We must continue to create this in our educational system and to have hope that this can be accomplished.
Parent Advocacy

One day I was in the mountains of Colorado and the sun was setting in a beautiful grove of Aspen trees. My husband is a professional photographer so I barely ever take pictures, but I was alone, so decided I would take a picture of this beautiful scene. As I was standing there, I thought, “I think I’ll do a selfie with me in front of the trees.” I don’t do selfies very often, so I kept trying to figure out how to hold the camera, press the button, and get both myself and the trees in the photo, while still trying to capture the beautiful light in that moment. As I was juggling the camera, at the very last moment, I remembered my friend had told me that if you take a selfie looking down on yourself from above, you look thinner, so I held the camera up high, and then took the shot.
Here it is:

janet selfie

When I think about the power of parents, parent engagement, parent advocacy, parents whatever…ruling the world – I think of this photo.
If we as parents forget what the point of all this is…. In this case our children who are D/HH – it’s not about ourselves as parents – we will miss our goal. Beautiful, light filled successful children. We do not need to put ourselves in the middle of the picture. We want to stay clear on whose ultimate journey this is. But as Parents – we are the holders of the camera, we are the photographers in our children’s lives, we are the ones with the right and ultimate responsibility to frame the picture and ensure a good photograph. But we could use your help (educators, health professionals, Deaf and Hard of Hearing adults) in framing the photo and knowing how to use the camera.

I challenge you today

I challenge you. Whether you are a Deaf individual, a researcher, a teacher/educator, a medical professional – don’t forget that the point of all this is not about you, just like it’s not about me….it’s about our kids, each one individual and unique.

If you commit to doing that, so will I, and so will all parents who only at the end of the day want their kids to succeed. But if we stay separated as we have done over the centuries, I don’t know, truly if there is any hope.

I am not a Pollyanna, I know that we will not all agree in this room and/or across organizations and systems. Ghandi said, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress” But we have no hope if we only focus on our own selves. I am so enheartened by movements right now in the field like the Common Ground project and the Radical Middle, and of course…Hands & Voices.
We must stand together…

I am learning that everyone has a story and is a human being behind their ‘role’ in this conversation. We often come together in rooms where we do not stop to listen and reflect on different perspectives in deaf education – and partly because we do not view one another as human beings with respect. I know that the history of deaf education over the past 200 years has been played out with passionate forces each clamoring for their stake in education of Deaf children. The stories I shared with you at the beginning of this presentation are my stories, and I know each one of you brings your own story to this conversation, and I thank you for it. I carry in my heart those who have come before us to make a path for my daughter today. – whether they communicated like my daughter does today or not. I am grateful for those in this world who are passionate and fight to keep the path for all our kids.

sara and Janet

I am a mom of a beautiful smart talented accomplished well educated Deaf/Hard of Hearing daughter named Sara. Does she speak or does she sign? Does she use both or not? Why does that matter? For my daughter or for any of our daughters or sons who are successful human beings in this world. Yes – we must all stand together to help our children attain success through one means or another, but the light on the trees must be successful outcomes for ALL kids, not the means by which we achieved it.

By Janet DesGeorges

(This speech was given by Janet DesGeorges, Executive Director of Hands & Voices at The Deaf and Hard of Hearing Program Presentation Thriving Together Friday, May 5, 2017 Boston Children’s Hospital.)

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The “Letting Go” Moments of Parenthood

January 22, 2017

 

david as a kidWhen my first child was born, I wasn’t prepared for the experience of my heart being wrenched out during the moments of learning to “let go.”  The first time my husband and I went out for dinner and left the baby with grandparents, I was excited for about twenty minutes. Then I started wondering, “I wonder if he’s crying? (he was going through the colicky stage), did I leave enough breast milk? Will they remember to change his diaper?” and so on.

The first time I let go of my toddler’s hand to take his first steps, he faceplanted hard on the carpet. When the second and third kid came along, I was much more cautious about letting go and waited until I thought they could master the walking thing. Some of that wisdom comes from experience the second time around, and some of it comes from being patient and knowing the time when the kid was ready to master it on his/her own. That’s the fine line of parenting and letting go–figuring out that magic formula and timing.

letting go

We live in an era of Helicopter Parenting–parents who hold the reins of parenting so tight that the kid has little opportunity to learn on their own and make mistakes. But here’s the thing, letting go is a vital part of the parenting transition that enables a child to achieve maximum growth in all areas of life.

When my oldest son was around five, we were at a McDonalds (I know, I know) playland and he asked for an ice cream cone. I gave him the cash and he went up to the counter to order his ice cream. Another parent who was with me was flabbergasted.

“You let him order by himself?”

My oldest son is deaf, and from an early age I wanted him to be independent and competent just like any other kid. I stood back and watched as he ordered his own ice cream. He came triumphantly walking back happily devouring his cone. The other parent continued to order for her deaf child for YEARS after that. She just could not let go and allow her kid to struggle with the ordering process. It was far easier for her to speak for her child and do the ordering.

The struggle is part of the process. In fact, it’s probably one of the most valuable aspects of the parenting gig–letting your child navigate the world and the challenges on their own is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your kid. The letting go stuff is hard. It’s so much easier to do for, or hold on–and wait for a better time or more maturity–before letting go. Yet, by letting go, our kids gain skills and experiences that they wouldn’t have if we didn’t hover so darn hard over them.

The first time I let a child take off with the car and a newly-minted driver’s license my heart was in my throat. And no, it did not become easier with each child because I was reliving all my fears, doubts, and scary thoughts with each child. But the only way around the fear of letting go is to…let go.

steven at RIT

And the first time they leave home…oh my…that’s the ultimate letting go.

Letting go often means giving up control, and that can be so darned tough at times. Here are some tips for navigating those parenting transitions that involve letting go:

Shift Your Perspective: 

Instead of seeing the letting go process as a loss of control, focus on the gain from it: increased independence, learning, and growth. Each time you “let go” and allow your child to experience something new and unknown, both of you grow in the process. Yes, your child may make mistakes or chose poor outcomes as a result, but the lessons learned can strengthen both of you. You can actually stunt your child’s growth by holding back instead of letting go.

Connect with Other Parents:

One of the easiest ways to handle the letting go process is to connect and talk with other parents who have been there or are going through the same process. You will often find that “hindsight advice” is spot on and this will help ease the parenting transition. Knowing that you aren’t alone in the “letting go” process can be comforting.

Connect with Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adults:

When you’re early in the parenting journey with your Deaf/Hard of hearing child, it can be difficult to see into the future years because you’re just trying to get through the day to day stuff. Take the opportunity to meet Deaf/Hard of hearing adults. This is a wonderful way to get questions answered, to see different perspectives and experiences, and to gain knowledge that would otherwise be difficult to find on your own. Take some time to scour the web for stories of Deaf/Hard of Hearing adults in various professions and activities and share them with your child.

 

Karen Putz is the mom of Dave, Ren, and Steven. She is the Co-Director of Deaf and Hard of Hearing Infusion at Hands & Voices. For fun, she walks on water

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Guided by China, A Journey Abroad and Within

June 11, 2015

candace and kids

As Board President of Hands & Voices Headquarters, I was honored to represent H & V through a Hear the World Foundation Grant, by joining U.S. educators and audiologists who have the common goal of sharing strategies on how to foster language development in children who are deaf and hard of hearing. Dr. Christine Yoshinaga-Itano, Audiologist, Teacher, and Researcher, periodically leads a group in conjunction with Soaring Hope Mission. This year, our team of US, Chinese and Taiwanese professionals traveled to Nanjing for a conference with China’s Newborn Screening Committee and then on to Yinchuan to directly work with 150 children, parents and staff in a regional Rehab Center.  Phonak graciously donated hearing aids and local representatives to join us as well.

As the Director of MN Hands & Voices at Lifetrack for over 14 years, I have had the pleasure of working with the most inspiring parents. I’ve been bolstered by the wisdom and life experiences of adult role models. I have also been humbled by the passion and dedication of professionals in the field.

As a parent of a young adult who is deaf, my role on this trip was intended to be that of mentor and counsel, based on my personal and work experience. At Hands & Voices, we use the term “Guide By Your Side” to refer to our trained Parent Guides who help families navigate next steps. In China, however, I learned far more than I can ever could impart. In the end, it was who was “Guided By China.”

A blog of the trip can be found here: Guided By China

Candace Lindow-Davies

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Where Do We Find Others Like Us on the Parenting Journey?

March 18, 2015

chevonne son

When a child is diagnosed with a hearing loss, the first thing that tends to happen is the quick referrals for more tests and intervention for the child. This is all good and well, we need to support and help the child as best we can. BUT, what about the parents, what about the family? Are they not at the heart of that child’s world?

The more I talk to, and read about families raising deaf children and the more I reflect on my own experience, the clearer it becomes: isolation.

Deafness, often referred to as the silent disability, is not only silent for the child, but in a sense, this initial diagnoses creates an isolation, a silent vacuum for the parents and families.

Where do you begin when you learn that your child can’t hear? You are sent from test to test, a long list of professionals, therapies and referrals. All focused on the child.

Yet, sitting in the seat, is a parent facing a diagnoses of their shattered dreams. Their hopes crushed. Staring at a child, who just this morning, looked as if they could hear the sweet “I love you” of the parent’s voice…

Sitting in the seat, a parent detaching from the world around them, a parent preparing for auto-pilot, shutting down their needs, ignoring their fears, doing what is expected in a haste of the child’s immediate needs…building up the invisible barrier.  A parent, insulated by the isolation and detachment.

Sitting here, reflecting on the parents met, discussions had, and personal articles read. The hints of isolation need not be there!

All we need is for someone to acknowledge the immense power of a diagnoses different to our dreams and realities. We need the humanity behind the diagnoses. A different approach, a way to bridge the gap that often results in the complete isolation a parent feels when their child is diagnosed with hearing loss.

Who do we turn to, who will understand the thoughts, fears, countless questions and emotions rushing through our every being? Where do we find “others” like us?

We need a consistent sensitivity towards the parents before rushing off for more tests and referrals. Acknowledge that any diagnoses, different to what we know to be perfectly healthy, is enough for us to shut down and go into auto-pilot…
We need to move towards holistic medical practices, where we no longer just see to the physical, but where we also acknowledge the psychological and emotional impact a diagnoses have on the parents, and the family.

What if it became standard practice for ALL pediatric facilities to have direct referrals to trained counselors/parent support groups who can guide and support families when their child is diagnosed with a disability/illness?

Is it not true that the parent’s well being is crucial to successful intervention and management of any diagnoses that impacts on a child’s health, development and growth? No parent should navigate their journey in isolation…silence can be deafening to a mother’s soul and a father’s heart!

The Internet is wonderful, but it can also be misleading for parents who are new on the journey. We need to connect with real people, people who can relate, families who are living what we are hearing for the first time. Isolated in their silent need, let us parents, who have traveled this journey, reach out and break the barriers of silence…

Chevone Petersen

South Africa

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