(By the way, this isn’t an article about how to get your child into a deaf university or any university. It’s about a moment as a parent when you consider the future – the unknown – and your course changes a little bit. A little bit for the better.)
By Scott Smith, Nebraska H&V
My wife or I have been on the Nebraska Chapter’s Board for a few years now. Back in 2016, we decided to go to the Leadership Conference in Estes Park, Colorado. We networked with people from all over the Midwest and from all over the country: parents, deaf adults, medical professionals, and teaching professionals. It was great. They covered all manner of topics from technical updates, to building stronger Chapters, to legislative highlights, to restorative self-care classes, and yes, there were some touching moments that pulled a few tears.
Let me stop a moment and say, if you are reading this, you are likely a member or are supporting Hands & Voices. (Soapbox: On) Consider becoming involved with your local board of directors. These are usually a bunch of cool parents, cool professionals and cool deaf adults that want to help other parents of deaf and hard of hearing children in some of the unique challenges we face from day to day. Someday you will have the opportunity to go to an amazing event like the Leadership Conference. It will have a positive affect on you as a parent. (Soapbox: off).
Disclaimer: I am not cool.
We started this journey when our son was born hard-of-hearing in 2007. Due to trauma during his birth, some of his fine motor skills in his legs, arms, including his finger and hand muscles and some of those in his lips and tongue are affected. Like all of our children, Charlie is a blessing and has changed our lives in wonderful ways. But for Charlie, and even for our other three children, we don’t know what the future holds.
During one of the breaks at the conference I walked through a hall of exhibitors on my way to the snack table. “What is that?” There was a booth for Gallaudet University and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at the Rochester Institute for Technology was also there. After a few minutes talking to the representatives, I got to thinking about college. I had never thought about college for Charlie. Well, let’s just say we hadn’t spent a ton of time thinking that far ahead. (By the way, this isn’t an article about how to get your child into a deaf university or any university. It’s about a moment as a parent when you consider the future–the unknown–and your course changes a little bit. A little bit for the better.)
Like I said earlier, we don’t know what the future holds for our kids. I’ll be honest; I was more worried about Charlie graduating from high school. On the way home from the conference, I was really in my head. “What can I do? What more can I do?” My wife and I work full time, which sometimes require travel and extra hours. We also have three other children. I am blessed to work for an employer that gave me the opportunity to go from a 40-hour work week to a 32-hour work week. First off, shaving 20% off the family budget was difficult. But it gave me the time to become more familiar with Charlie’s school friends, school staff and curriculum.
A friend was teaching a chess club for third through sixth-graders at Charlie’s school, and asked if I could assist. I know more about Gallaudet than I do about chess, which means “not much”. I said, “Sure. Can Charlie join?” He said yes, and two weeks later, I was helping teach chess and chess-related signs once a week to students in the club. In the spring of 2018, Charlie played in a school chess tournament and had a 2-1-1 record and did pretty well. He wants to play again this year. That probably wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t thought about working toward college and taking the leap to lower my work hours.
Next year, Charlie transitions from elementary to middle school. Our department of education closed our Nebraska School for the Deaf many years ago. We are faced with various blends of mainstreaming through middle and high school. As parents, we do not feel Charlie will have much success with this approach. So our next big adventure may be obtaining residency in a state that has a school for the deaf. Maybe in six years, I’ll write an article on how to get your Deaf Plus child into college. In the meantime, I look forward to the moments that will change the course of my family’s life a little bit, just like the Leadership Conference did for me. Those moments opened a multitude of doors that have provided experiences for Charlie and me that we never would have had…experiences that make the unknowns ahead less daunting.