Most recently, we have been asked to clarify our position on parent choice. Supporting parents in making their own informed choices for the child they know best is central to everything we do.
The Cornerstone of Parent Choice
By Karen Putz,
Co-Director of Deaf/Hard of Hearing Infusion
Hands & Voices
In my very first job right out of college, I informally took on the role of being a mentor to a family with a toddler who was deaf. I had no formal training, other than my own experience of growing up hard of hearing, becoming deaf as a teen, and learning American Sign Language shortly after. That first experience of working with families was so enjoyable for both the family and for me that I began to get calls from more and more families. I happily provided mentoring support, even though my primary job was structured toward independent living for teens and adults.
Then I got a call that would change my life and eventually lead me formally down the path of parent support…
A mom called to ask for support services and resources. She had just found out her six-month old daughter was deaf. I debated whether to take the appointment, for I had just turned in my resignation letter to stay home with my own newborn baby. Since the family lived near my home, I took the appointment.
I ended up mentoring that family on my own out of sheer passion for the work. We held sign classes in her home and the neighbors joined in. We mentored other families together. In an ironic twist, this mom was also there to support me when my toddler became profoundly deaf two years later. It was that moment that my journey became personal–now I was the mom of a deaf kid. Everything shifted in the way I provided support from that point on, because I was now walking down the parenting path with my own experiences. My husband and I were now facing the process of choices and decisions we had to make for our child (and the two that followed).
And that changed everything.
As a parent, we are responsible for all kinds of decisions for our children. My husband and I soon learned that NOT making a decision was a decision in itself–and we had to own the consequences of that path as well.
In 2004, I stumbled upon Hands & Voices while putting together a website for parents in Illinois. The minute I read the description of the organization, I knew it was a fit for our family.
Who are we? We are parents of ASL signers, cued speech users…. parents of kids with cochlear implants or total communicators… we are people who have common interests connected through the community of deafness. Hands & Voices is a safe place to explore options, get unemotional support (although we can be emotional about it!), learn from one another and share what we have in common. We value diversity and honor the role of parents and family as the single greatest factor in raising a WASK (our favorite acronym: Well-Adjusted Successful Kid).
“There is room in the community of deafness for an organization like Hands & Voices, and in fact, I think parents, and even many professionals, have been crying out for a group like this,” says Leeanne Seaver, Board member. “Somehow parents connecting to other parents provides an element of credibility; there’s a level of ‘knowing & feeling’ that only a parent experiences. And parents, especially parents of babies newly identified with deafness or hearing loss, need a way to connect like this without being wary of a sponsoring agenda from a service provider.”
Hands & Voices is a nonprofit, parent-driven organization dedicated to supporting families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing. We are non-biased about communication methodologies and believe that families can make the best choices for their child if they have access to good information and support.
Everything about the organization matched what I felt was most needed. Parent choice. Support for diverse communication options. Coming together for common causes. Support by parents for parents on the parenting journey.
It is now many years later; my kids are now young adults. I’ve been a board member, a founder of a state Hands & Voices chapter (along with the parent I previously mentored), and I am now working as staff. Through the years, we’ve remained steadfast in our mission and vision to provide support to parents on the journey. We work with a diverse group of parents from all walks of life and all different stages of their journey.
From time to time, we are asked for our position on a variety of topics. Most recently, we have been asked to clarify our position on parent choice. Supporting parents in making their own informed choices for the child they know best is central to everything we do. When it comes to the parent’s right to choose, we stand firmly behind this concept:
Parents not only have the right to choose language and communication modality for their child who is deaf or hard of hearing, they have the ethical, legal and moral obligation to do so. Furthermore, the research proves that the single greatest indicator of a DHH child’s eventual success—regardless of which mode or method of communication is used—is the meaningful involvement of his or her parents. The goal is to make that involvement authentic, effective and informed by the wisdom that so many have to share from direct experience…parent-to-parent, deaf or hard of hearing adult to parent, and professional to parent.
(Read more here: http://www.handsandvoices.org/resources/upholdingmission.htm)
The parenting journey is filled with twists and turns. As a mom of three kids, I’ve experienced this firsthand. As a Deaf Mentor in early intervention, I’ve had the honor of being a part of a family’s journey often from the beginning. As a staff person with Hands & Voices, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of families negotiating this journey around the world. I’ve seen it time and time again–even in the midst of difficult situations and trying times–there’s so much more that unites us than divides us. We must continue to focus on the common goal: building an informed community surrounding parents so they can nurture the seed of potential in every child.