There are, of course, mixed reactions to this news. Some parents may be relieved because they knew “something was wrong”. Others may be upset to learn that their child may struggle with a disability long-term. Because many health care professionals can give you the medical, and sometimes pathological view of deafness, I felt it appropriate to share a cultural perspective that people aren’t exposed to as often.
Learning that your child is deaf may leave you with many questions – do I buy a hearing aide, how does this affect their education and most important; how will we communicate? This information can be daunting and overwhelming to many parents as it is uncharted territory.
First and foremost, learning ASL (American Sign Language) will be most beneficial for you and your child. While I understand the importance of wanting to get them a hearing aide or cochlear implant to “make them hear”, these methods are not always effective. In other words, its like making a blind person try to see; you may be able to buy glasses and benefit from them in some way, but they will never be a sighted-individual. In turn, your child will always be deaf.
Most parents of deaf children do not learn ASL. I have many friends whose parents didn’t sign and this is turn has become a cultural norm for deaf children. Please, if nothing else, try to learn the basics. I think back to my friend telling me a story of experiencing menstruation and her mom couldn’t explain it to her. This is just one example of why it’s so important to learn ASL!
Second, seek out opportunities for your child in the education setting. Would you like to see you child in a public school, perhaps with an interpreter? This is called “mainstreaming”. Another option is to go to a “Cluster site” in a public school – meaning that there is a public school that has a deaf program, so that your child can socialize with deaf and hearing people alike.
Another option is to have your child attend a State School for the Deaf. This is a residential setting where your child would live for most of the school year, minus holidays, to experience classes with deaf teachers who know their language and there is no need for an interpreter. Sometimes the teachers, counselor, principal, etc., are hearing people who are fluent in ASL. Either way, the child gets to learn though his/her first language and experiences clear communication. This, of course, is hard to imagine for parents as turning over their Kindergartner for an entire school year can see unimaginable.
There is a huge debate in the Deaf Community regarding the use of the Cochlear Implant (CI). I will not make an assessment of the implant itself as I feel it serves different people for different reasons at different points in their life. While most hearing people feel that the CI will make “deaf folks hear”, this is not entirely true.
It works for some and not others. It seems also that the later you get it in life, the harder it is to adjust to “hearing things”. I recall a friend that got it in college and was amazed by learning that “turning the newspaper from page-to-page makes a sound!” He never got used to that much auditory input and ended up not using the CI. And for others, depending on their hearing loss type, they end up only hearing very loud auditory cues such as a lawn-mower or a fire alarm.
Fortunately, many states are now requiring mandated hearing tests for babies in the hospitals, but sometimes the tests can have skewed results depending on the state of the child during the test, i.e. if they are hungry or sleepy, the results can be hit or miss. Research has found though, that the earlier the child is exposed to language, be it ASL or otherwise, the better. Hopefully, with improved testing and insightful parenting, gone are the days that parents didn’t find out that their children were deaf until they were 8 years old.
An important resource for parents regarding their children’s rights’ is the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). This law changed the face of deafness as we know it and required schools and other public places to have interpreters upon the deaf persons request. For more info: http://www.ada.gov/pubs/ada.htm
- States are now beginning to recognize ASL as a language and some colleges are letting students take it as a foreign language for credit. This in itself has been an uphill battle, but is one that we are surely overcoming.
- Videophones – you can now communicate with deaf people over the phone via the use of an interpreter. You call their number like anyone else on your phone and you will be automatically connected with an interpreter and the deaf person.
- Many states are setting up commissions or coalitions to better improve service delivery to deaf people i.e. interpreter regulation, employment, DHS rules and regs regarding deaf law are being overseen, etc.
We have a long way to go before deaf children will be seen as “equal”. But taking steps to ensure that we can communicate with them as their parents is the first step. We must be able to teach them everything that we know so that they can benefit from our wisdom, but this relies solely on being able to communicate not just in the surface level, but in a way that conveys emotion and philosophical discussion. http://www.aslpro.com/cgi-bin/aslpro/aslpro.cgi