Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Letter to the Deaf Community

Dear Deaf Community,
My son is deaf, I'm not. I chose to have him implanted with a cochlear implant at 21 months old because I wanted him to be able to communicate through spoken language. I don't hate the Deaf culture or want to keep my son from his deaf identity. In fact, I spend a good deal of time trying to find opportunities to learn more about Deaf culture. I've exposed my son to sign language from infancy and he is able to sign a few words. He's by no means fluent in sign, nor am I. He has significantly more spoken English than signs. You see, my son is also visually impaired. Does that make him less deaf? Deaf Awareness Week is fast approaching and I would like to take my son to some Deaf Awareness activities. When I look at various sites I find silent suppers. I can sign eat and so can Noah. We also know banana, cereal, thank you, and more. Does that mean we can come? Or will I be shunned because I don't know enough sign language? Will my son be shunned because of the magnet in his head? I think that it would be a beautiful thing to go to a Deaf theater production. Would I be lost because I can't sign enough? Would people glare at me if I spoke to my husband during intermission? I have also read about protests planned at places that support Auditory Verbal Therapy or AG Bell. My son goes to AVT every Monday. If I protest in front of his therapy center will that make me a better parent of a deaf child? Will it help my son to better understand what it means to be deaf? You see, my son will always be deaf. Even with a cochlear implant and spoken language. You understand what that is like, I don't. I wish that the Deaf community would embrace hearing parents of deaf children. I want someone to help me explain to my son that it's ok to be different. He might believe you because you know what it's like to be different too. Unfortunately all too often I find the Deaf community judgemental of hearing parents. We're bad parents because we want our children to hear and speak. Is that an unfair statement? Is it wrong to want my son to be like me? You teach your hearing children to sign, don't you? I don't want my son to be unkind to people who make different choices than what he would make. Does he have to be like that to fit in with Deaf culture? Please help me to understand.
The hearing mother of a deaf child


Sammie said...

Just wanted to give you some HUGS!

Jodi Devine said...

My son is deaf and wears bilateral hearing aids. He too attends early intervention which focuses on AVT - a choice both my husband and I made for him (as hearing abled parents). Reading your post, I had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA of what you were facing in relation to such an issue. I live in Sydney, Australia. I don't think that makes it better, just more sheltered I guess. I just can not believe how horrible that must be, that you are constantly forced to defend your decision and fight for acceptance. A well-written post..... are you sending it???

Josephine said...

I have really enjoyed reading a couple of your entries! I can't believe some of the reactions you apparently get from deaf adults about your decision to help your son be able to hear!!!!!! My daughter has hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy, and I sort of equate your experiences to someone with cerebral palsy telling me I was denying my daughter the experience of being part of the cp community by getting botox shots in her thighs so that she can learn to walk. Ridiculous. Why would you choose to limit your child's opportunities to one community when you can give him the whole world experience as well as the deaf community?? I'm shocked to hear that ANYONE would question you for trying to give your son the gift of hearing!!!

patti durr said...

you ask many many questions - all of them good

no u and your son should not be shunned

the issue of CI are controversial and upsetting for the Deaf community in general because with CI often comes programs that tell parents not to use ASL (such as AVT)

oral/aural only approaches have been very harmful to many Deaf people - it is a very emotional and personal issue for many Deaf people - does that justify treating u or your son harshly - no not at all

When a parent deaf or hearing chooses to have their child get an implant and deny them the use of ASL - for many Deaf people that represents the alienation and linguistic and cultural genocide

if u r planning to raise Noah bilingually and biculturally = GREAT that would be AWESOME

will SOME Deaf people still react to his CI - yes. for Deaf people it is still a visual signifier of rejection - of the medical world trying to FIX and irradicate Deaf people

this has been done and tried many many times over the years

its not fun and its not cool so presently that is what the CI represents

when some Deaf folks see CI on Deaf children a piece of them is shattered - its like a link in them is being severed because the assumption is that with this CI will come a more hearing like - non-signing deaf person

i teach at a large Deaf college and we have seen an increase in students with CI without seeing a decrease in student signing

i am not fearful that CIs mean the demise of ASL

however i know from many of the stories my students have told me is that the CI for them who got it often represents their parents desire for them to be hearing

i think the best thing u can give to ur Noah - which i think u r doing - is unconditional love. u love him for who and what he is - a glorious thriving banana and thank you signing Deaf-blind child

this is the foundation of which we are all built - this total acceptance from our parents

in terms of some members of the Deaf community responding harshly or reacting when they see Noah's CI - it reminds me of when i was nursing my kids and some folks would comment or stare or communicate disdain (others would communicate support and warmth also), i shared with a more experienced mom some of the negative responses i would get and she said "simple, don't look"

so when u see folks reacting in a way that upsets u - look away - give them time to process this and come to terms with it

also u might want to consider if u r bringing NOah to Deaf related events to expose him to Deaf culture and ASL - to simply take off the processor as he really wouldnt need it in those environments. I think it is just a visually discongruent image presently for the Deaf-world - to see Deaf children in an ASL rich environment using a CI. In other settings it has application but in those particular settings perhaps it is not needed

just a thought as we all try to figure out this together