By Heather Young/ Illinois Families for Hands and Voices

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with a man who is the Department Chair in Deaf Education at a 4-year college. After I introduced my family and mentioned that my three children each had a moderate hearing loss, he was shocked to learn our family has chosen to attend the Illinois School for the Deaf. He expressed his belief that all children who have any residual hearing should not be taught sign language or identify with the Deaf community at all. It is his opinion that hard of hearing children should focus on strictly oralism and be mainstreamed as soon as possible.I was irritated at his attitude, especially when I tried to explain how we came to our decision, and he interrupted me. He felt that he is an expert in hearing loss because of his research and years spent preparing future teachers of the deaf. He obviously knew much more than mere parents, who have cried, worried, prayed, hoped over their children, and loved them from the day the sweet baby came from above.

Sometimes as a "mere parent", I have let so called experts make decisions for my children, not knowing how to disagree diplomatically. Most of the time, I ended up regretting not letting my voice be heard. Even after 8 1/2 years and three children, I still get stumped in certain situations. But what I know beyond a doubt is that when push comes to shove, the decisions about where to live, how to live, what school to attend, to sign or not sign, are ours to make. Parents in the end ARE the experts. I am glad my family is attending a school for the Deaf. This school practices total communication, and everyone receives speech therapy and also learns ASL. It is an INCLUSIVE school and no one is accepted or denied entrance based on an audiogram. The children play equally, and have accepted my children fully. We are learning sign language, which is great for my husband and I because we have long recognized our need to know how to communicate with other deaf parents and children. We feel the goal is not to separate deaf and hard of hearing children, sending one group to one school and leaving the others isolated only by an audiogram, but to teach each other equally. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to teach the "experts " what the children already know: The most important thing is to have friends to talk to at lunch.


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