In a Perfect World

Feng Shui in the DHH Family


A good friend gave me a great little dictionary of FENG SHUI DOs AND TABOOs. Now I’m not a student of Feng Shui and I’m not even completely sure that I pronounce the term correctly (fung-shway?), but I do respect it and have made a few modifications with “placement” in mind. 

Feng Shui is the Chinese art of placement related to the flow, balance and interaction of things. If a place gives you a bad feeling, something is out of Feng Shui alignment. For example, when I realized that the long vanity in my bathroom embodied sha or “killing energy” because of the narrow cabinet right in the center extending up to the ceiling (see the shape in your mind: an upside down “hatchet”), I informed my husband, Tom, that a major remodel was critically necessary. It’s a very bad thing to start every day in the presence of such negative energy. Indeed, now that the room has been fixed—four months and two new sinks/a vanity/new tile floor/shower/wainscoting/ numerous fixtures/better lighting and two coats of paint later—I’m feeling much better.  Tom still looks a bit shell-shocked, but he, too, is recovering.

Thank goodness it doesn’t take that much money or effort to get the Feng Shui right with our kids who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH). There is certainly a right communication flow to be achieved between hearing and DHH people in a family.  If we’re out of balance or not interacting well, everybody’s going to immediately know it and feel it. Or are they?

When We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

Now that my deaf son Dane is older, he’s far more likely to point out what isn’t “deaf friendly” around our house. If the conversation at dinner or in the car or at the doctor’s office isn’t accessible to him, he’ll let us know. But when he was little, we rarely ever heard from him on this subject. The problem was that there was a lot of communication going on that Dane didn’t know he was missing. I can beat myself up pretty badly over this because it was our job as his parents to “mind the gap” in communication. It wasn’t so much the one-on-one exchange with him but there were many group dynamics, holiday gatherings, or just seemingly “unimportant” interactions that I wish I could do-over. I wish I was back at his fifth grade basketball game chanting and laughing with the rest of the home crowd when my son fouled a particularly nasty opponent…

“Rah Rah Ree…kick him in the knee!

Rah Rah Rass, kick him in the other knee!!” 

In my do-over version, Dane looks up into the crowd and recognizes what we’re laughing at…because I’d already taught him the cheer and why it’s funny; this time he knows we’re not laughing at him and instead of hot red embarrassment, a grin breaks out all over his face. 

Yeah, I’d like about a thousand do-overs.

As hearing people, the process of adapting our function to make all these connections and communicate them to a deaf or hard of hearing child is truly a learned behavior.  Not only do our kids not know what they don’t know, we as hearing people don’t always know either. It’s a steep learning curve; no, that doesn’t capture it—make that a vertical learning rock wall. 

What’s Worth Knowing

Once I went to a workshop that was supposed to help hearing parents develop their skills for raising a child with hearing loss. The speaker was, among other qualifiers, a successful deaf adult who would share from his own life experience.  Still, his recommendations just didn’t feel right to me. He felt it was ok to “tell your deaf child that when he misses the conversation at dinner time, you’ll catch him up later; but be sure to take one-on-one time with him and cover the high points.” Well, I couldn’t disagree more.

If you want a really good example of “killing energy” in the Feng Shui of the DHH family, just take that guy’s advice. I realize he was probably emphasizing that mom and dad are not superheroes and can’t get it right all the time. He was giving us some grace, and heaven knows we need some. But to condone such compromised communication misses the more important point: this stuff can truly hurt a kid’s spirit. Here’s what you can expect from the “I’ll tell ya later” approach:

  • the DHH child internalizes a message that s/he is not important enough to be included in the conversation; s/he is irrelevant
  • the hearing people (as well as the DHH kid) internalize a message that the DHH child doesn’t have anything to contribute to the conversation
  • important family stories, social information and cues are lost
  • new vocabulary and “colloquialisms” are missed
  • the child feels lonely and isolated in the midst of his/her own family

If this dynamic becomes the norm in a family, eventually it will “kill” the child’s self esteem. The issue is no longer just “what is s/he missing?” but that the child may come to believe “I’m not worth knowing.”

Getting it Right

We would be well-served by applying Feng Shui principles to the communication dynamics in our families. Understanding the importance of placement, flow, balance and interaction with our DHH children means that we’re proactively anticipating the challenge of communication, and planning accordingly. (Please don’t make the assumption that technology is going to do all the hard work for you; ask any adult with a cochlear implant if s/he is getting it all for a reality check on this.)

Let’s go back to that dinner table.  Is it round?  Good, that represents Feng Shui equality and harmony. Plus, it makes it easier to figure out where the conversation is going, whose turn it is, and how to get a word in edgewise. Is the DHH child sitting with the window behind him so everyone else is illuminated around him (not silhouetted)? Does everybody know the communication “ground rules” so there’s no cross-talking or signing over one another? Are we prompting our kid for his/her opinions or news from school? The physical placement of the table and all the people around it, the strategic flow of conversation, and the balance of conversational turn-taking all contribute to the ultimate quality of the group interaction. From this, the child gains a sense of worth, of belonging and being loved…and that is a good feeling.

Go with the Flow

Thanks to my Feng Shui book, I now know that garden paths should never be straight. Curving paths draw you further into the garden and create opportunities for discovering something wonderful just around the corner. Parenting a child who is deaf or hard of hearing is also like that, except that the curves aren’t planned. In fact, they can often feel more like hairpin turns and we might just fall off them at times and lose our way. Find it again with your child…follow him.  You might also consider putting a pair of ceramic Chinese unicorns on either side of the front entrance to your home. They bring protection and attract good luck, and that certainly couldn’t hurt. 

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