One Family’s Journey

A Mother’s Dream: 
A Career in Deaf Education


By Andrea Strom, North Dakota H&V

teachAndrea and Ashden

As parents, and especially as mothers, we are often told that “we are our child’s first teacher.”  Not many would dispute the validity or truth of that statement.  However, for some mothers, the reality of that simple statement is overwhelming, anxiety provoking, and literal.  This is particularly true for parents of a child with a low-incidence condition such as hearing loss.

Our son’s hearing loss was initially red-flagged due to newborn hearing screening.  When Ashden was just three weeks old, our audiologist confirmed the unimaginable: bilateral, profound, sensorineural hearing loss.  Like many parents, we struggled with feelings of devastation, confusion, and uncertainty.  After the initial shock subsided, we embraced the unknown and absorbed as much information as we could find on raising a child who is deaf/hard of hearing, hearing technology, communication modalities,  deaf education, and then, more specifically, oral education. Ultimately, we made the decision for Ashden to receive bilateral cochlear implants and to aggressively pursue a spoken language outcome.

Throughout our journey with Ashden’s hearing loss we have encountered many challenges.  One of the most significant early and ongoing challenges has been access to professionals in the field of deaf education that have skills, training, and experience in oral deaf education.  As a result, we felt we needed to expand our search for highly focused auditory oral instruction, which led to us exploring educational options at Northern Voices,an auditory oral school in Roseville, Minnesota. Our hearts were filled with hope as we observed toddlers and preschoolers who were making impressive gains in spoken language and listening. We could only imagine how greatly this would impact his opportunities to participate in the hearing world!  He began attending the toddler program in the fall of 2007 and graduated from the preschool program in the summer of 2010. Currently, Ashden is getting ready to enter the first grade in our neighborhood school and his development is nearly on par with his peers academically.  Although he uses complex spoken language, he still has a gap to close primarily due to challenges other than his hearing loss.  However, the future looks extremely bright for our little fellow!

Until Ashden was diagnosed with hearing loss, our family had no knowledge or experience with individuals with hearing loss, and I had no idea that I could develop such a passion for helping children who are deaf or hard of hearing. Now, I just can’t imagine doing anything else. The three years we spent at Northern Voices not only changed the course of his future, but most certainly fueled a change in my own personal aspirations. Since we commuted long distance to the school, I had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time there while Ashden attended. I enjoyed volunteering in the classrooms and building relationships with the teachers. It was a priceless experience to see children begin in the parent-infant program and progress through preschool making impressive language gains. I found myself dreaming of a job in deaf education, but the barriers seemed nearly impossible to overcome. Moving a significant distance to attend on campus classes was not an option, and, at that time, there were very few distance education programs specializing in deaf education. The programs that did exist were designed for professionals that already had degrees in education. 

In the summer of 2011, I attended a deaf education conference hosted by the North Dakota School for the Deaf.  My goal was to review and build on oral strategies in deaf education and enjoy the company of a good friend. The conference was very instructional, but I gained more than I had expected. I was connected with the director of the deaf education program at Minot State University and was thrilled to learn that they (MSU) recently began offering online coursework in the field of deaf education! Upon returning home, I enrolled for fall coursework and am currently pursuing the Master’s Degree of Science in Special Education with an emphasis in deaf education. Ironically, I discovered that I already owned several of the textbooks for my classes.

My decision to pursue a career in an area that is so personal to our family has taught me more than simply book knowledge. I feel a deep sense of satisfaction and pride regarding the progress that Ashden has made.  We still have many obstacles and challenges to overcome, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Would my husband and I give Ashden our hearing if we could? Absolutely. But then he wouldn’t be the same little man that he is today. Our journey with Ashden’s hearing loss has changed our hearts, strengthened our resolve, and shaped our character, both as parents and individuals. Our life is fuller and richer than it would have been had Ashden been born with normal hearing. It is my most sincere hope and desire that in the very near future, I will have the privilege of partnering with new parents as they begin their own journeys with their children.

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