Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Excuse Me! Can I have your attention please?

The Sales Pitch



Mother of Deaf child enters large auditorium and pull out a dusty, rusty, battered soap box. She steps on top and the spotlight comes on. Electronic ad music is blasted over the sound system.

A small audience is scattered throughout the hall.


Excuse me please! Can I have your attention. I am here today to show you the latest advance in raising a deaf child. Can I direct your attention to the thing that will change your families lives. Ladies and gentlemen,

Mother makes a sweeping gesture towards a rotating platform.

MOTHER (cont'd)
Natural Communication!

A shiny drape is lifted from a revolving disc to reveal ASL. The music gets louder and lights are flashing




Yes my friends Natural Communication is the tool of the future. No
more confusion or frustration. This little dandy is CI and hearing aide compatible. Imagine the look on your child's face when you can communicate naturally. Watch as tantrums are reduced and you begin to have easy in depth conversation. Use ASL to support speech and it even reduces stress in public when you need to discipline. ASL is a lovely compliment for your CI or other listening devices.

Try it for free for one month and if you decide this is the answer for you we will ship fluency for free. Yes folks at no extra charge! Natural Communication comes with a life time guarantee.

A hand raises from the small audience


But my family is hearing. My child needs to know how to live in a hearing world


ASL is hearing family compatible plus it increases unity.

Another question


But I want my daughter to be able to order from a restaurant.


Studies show that deaf people can order from restaurant whether they own ASL or not.


I don't have time to learn another language


Unlike other products with ASL you learn it and that is it! All you need to do to keep it charged is use it!


But I have other kids.


ASL is shown to benefit all children hearing or deaf.

So step right up to get your risk free trial of Natural Communication!

People get up and start to leave. The crowd is grumbling.


Folks come try this! I have proof it works!

Mother of Deaf child gathers up her soap box and walks off


Sometimes I Wonder

My son is very aware that hearing and Deaf culture are different. He often will point this out to me. I ask a question and he replies, "Mom it's a Deaf thing". There are many small ways we navigate differently. He does it with ease. I love how he can just turn a switch and fit in both worlds without thinking.

Over the years every time I am introduced to a Deaf adult it is normal to be asked for a sort of deaf resume. I offer my name and depending on who it is maybe my sign name. It goes like this.

Meeting a Deaf person

Me "My name is (finger spell my full name name), sign name (my sign name)"
Other person " Are you Deaf?"
Me "No I am hearing my son is Deaf"

At this point if there is someone I know standing by they jump in and explain me. It goes something like this,

" She is very involved her son has beautiful ASL. He goes to such and such school"

Then we go on to offer a brief background into how we fit into the community. I may learn if they were mainstreamed or attended a deaf program. I may find out where they were from and if their parents signed. I will not find out if they talk. If I later find myself with them and they start to talk to someone it will startle me a bit. They usually don't ask what I do for income and I won't learn this about them unless maybe they work in a Deaf related field.

Meeting a hearing person,

"Hi I'm Mel"

" Sally, nice to meet you. "

" Nice party, do you know Jack?"

"Yea I work with him"

"Oh what do you do?"

"I make packing peanuts"

"Interesting I have always wondered how they do that. I'm in sales."

" Really? What do you sell?"

" Tractors, here is my card if you are ever in the market."

There are other little differences and I understand why but the one that I am really curious about is makeup. Yep that has stumped me for years. When my son was younger I bought professional face paints because why pay a non signing hearing person when I could do it myself? I also have done theater makeup for both hearing and Deaf kids. I was thinking really hard about how to paint a deaf child's face. I thought about how it would feel if they shut their eyes and had no idea where the brush was going. So I developed a strategy. I would gently touch the are I was going to paint as a signal before painting. Boy did I feel clever.

The difference that baffles me is Deaf kids don't flinch. They don't as a rule mind if you paint on their eyes but hearing kids go nuts. I can tell a hearing kid to shut his eyes the verbally tell him what I am going to do and they still squish up their faces in nervous anticipation. I use the most quiet gentle voice. A deaf child will shut his eyes and remain relaxed not moving until I tap their shoulder. Why is this? I know it is such a small thing that in no way impacts the lives of our kids. Why do the deaf kids trust I won't poke their eye out but the hearing kids look like they are at the dentist? Other folks have told me the same thing but don't know why.

OK, I know that is a really strange thing to waste space on but I am on vacation and this is what happens when I have free time. Rest assured today I will make better use of my time. My son is teaching my daughter and I how to make a Comedia Del Arte mask. I didn't even know what that was until he told me. So always learning on this end.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Thought On Relatives

I saw a great comment on my Silent Night post. The question was,

"How do you deal with the extended family not signing?"

That is a very important question that I Think all hearing/ASL parents think about. Not only family but close friends that don't sign. I haven't thought in depth about this topic in awhile but I can share some rambling ideas off the top of my head.

I like to stand back and look at the big picture. I have relatives I never see and that is fine with me. As we grow older we can pick who we have relationships with. You can't force people to learn anything. I used to feel frustrated and sad but really now it isn't a big deal. All of the family that we do see has taken at least one class. The reality is they don't have people they see often enough to practice with. I taught myself Japanese when I worked at a sushi restaurant about 20 years ago. I got some books and practiced at work and became conversational. Now I could maybe say "I am sorry" in that language. It is very hard to maintain fluency if you don't use it often.

Now if we saw the whole family often I would be frustrated. For example if they saw him once a week. When he was really little we solved the problem by hosting a sign brunch every Sunday at our house. A lot of people don't learn well from videos and are too intimidated to go to a class. We were frustrated they weren't learning. We realized they wanted to learn but needed help. We had a full spread of food, only friends and family and a Deaf teacher. In this comfortable environment they were able to really learn.

Sometimes just giving folks and opportunity to sink or swim helps. We allowed my son to visit his grandparent's house without us since he was very little. They are not fluent in ASL. This helped them all bond and made it easier for the grandparents to learn how to communicate. You know how it is easier to learn ASL if you are forced to sign with a deaf person? Well without us there to act as the go between they got on board faster and they found ways to communicate. I felt safe because they raised my husband and he turned out fine. As a result of this trust and time spent together they are very close.

This also forced him to start to learn how to get by in the hearing world without assistance. I knew he was in a safe environment so I felt comfortable. I am always amazed at how they understand each other. I think it has helped him become the independent kid he is.

I wish we had all the tech tools back then that we have now. I would had loved to have Skype and VP. Hearing relatives can Skype deaf children. I remember every now and then I would get a call asking what my son was trying to say. It would have been so easy if we had Skype. Best of all Skype is free.

Another thing we do is not always interpret our conversations. What I mean is if I am chatting with just my son I don't feel I need to make everyone comfortable by telling them what we are saying. It is so interesting how awkward folks get when we do that. It helps them understand more what is at stake. Some people tell me it is rude. It is like whispering in front of them. Well does that mean the majority of the world is whispering in front of my son? If someone has had the opportunity to learn to sign and chose not that is fine but it is hard for me to talk and sign. I don't feel I need to do that all the time. I interpret for my son's benefit not for the comfort of others.

At our home he has full access to communication. If visitors don't sign and have known him a long time I don't force him to socialize. We know a family that has tried to learn to sign. The mother can pretty much communicate but the kids don't even try. My son doesn't really want to hang out with them and I understand why. The only thing they would do is read all of his comics. At their house they don't really include him. They are the sweetest kids but it just doesn't work out well. My friend was a bit upset when I let him go to his room the last time they came to visit. I have avoided that conversation in the past but she seemed really insulted. I told her the truth. She said he could always write notes. I responded then that is how we all will communicate. I told her that if he was going to do that we should too that way we would understand how he felt. I just think in his own home he should have the right to free communication. If the children had learned to sign or tried harder to include him in the past I would have probably made him come out and entertain them.

So a final thought is really how does he feel? We left Christmas Eve all feeling great. He had an awesome time. I don't resent that we have to interpret. Of course it is a bit more work but not that much. I don't really have to do much work in his life because he is Deaf so interpreting for family don't cause any burden. He always loves it when the whole family is together so there really isn't a reason for me to have negative feelings. When we first were getting started everything was so raw and I would get so frustrated. Now I have mellowed and found that if I approach people with empathy things work out better.

So I don't really have the answers. I find my family does better at this stage of the game if I don't worry about what others choose to do. Life is too much fun to waste time on things I can't change. I do however strongly advocate when someone is paid to educate my son and change is needed. That is a whole other story.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I Didn't Ask for a deaf Child

I didn't ask for a deaf child

I was given one

I saw his eyes light up

I wanted to know why

He asked me about a caterpillar

I found the answer

He snuck a cupcake

I redirected with my words

I was given a Deaf child

I didn't ask why

He told me he loved me

I asked why

"Because we are the same"

"You are an artist and so am I"

I would ask for this Deaf child

Now ask me why

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Silent Night

I love Christmas. It is the one time every year when the entire family on my husband's side commits to be together. This can also present challenges for us. My son sees his grandparents often even though they live almost three hours away. My kids are the only grandchildren so they get lots of attention. When he was very little they took ASL classes and even though they are not fluent they can communicate and were taught about Deaf culture. His aunts and uncles don't sign so here lies the challenge.

When my son was first identified I did tons of research and discovered many deaf kids of hearing families didn't fully enjoy family gatherings. Families would leave the deaf child in the dark about conversations. Maybe the whole table would be laughing and when the child inquired about why the family for many reasons wouldn't clarify. We just couldn't accept this.

I read about different ways people approached this. One family hired an interpreter. This just didn't seem like something that would make the gathering natural and comfortable for my son. So we decided to always invite Deaf people. That is what happened for most of his life until a couple of years ago. Now it is just family but we have found a balance so he is always included.

Every Christmas my husband and I, as much as we can, interpret everything that is said at the party. Even if he is not in the conversation I sign. that way if he looks over he can decide if he wants to join in. Sim com is not easy for me so it can be a bit exhausting.

This year my son learned how to play the guitar,

For the first time in many years I didn't host Christmas Eve. My husband's sister has a new house and new boyfriend so she offered to host. This gave me the option to relax and enjoy! We were all so excited and on the way over my son kept asking how many more minutes until we would arrive.

So everyone arrived and the party started. My kids were antsy to open presents and soon my son was bored. This is where I figure out that of course he is bored, not because he is deaf but because he is twelve. I remember being bored at that age. So he settles on the sofa to text his friends. Turns out they are all bored too (they are also all hearing).

He then decides to join the family in conversation. After awhile six people start talking about a cake someone brought and the bakery it came from. Soon all six people were talking at the same time and I was a mess trying to keep up and sort it all out for my son. He was asking questions which of course were a beat behind. So I just told them to stop so I could catch him up and please slow down and take turns talking. For the most part everyone knows to do this but sometimes they forget.

After that he plays WII with his sister. This gave my brain a break form trying to communicate in two languages. After that for the rest of the night my husband and I took turns interpreting. Everyone was having a great time. He was involved.

My son had discovered a room full of guitars. We were talking with the new boyfriend and my son mentioned that when he had to pick an instrument at school for music he wanted the guitar. I asked the boyfriend to teach him a bit. We sat him on the amp and he learned how to play a scale. It was the most natural thing in the world. He can't hear a thing but he does feel music. I was standing there watching him concentrate. He looks like a surfer kid, he is the kind of kid that wears flip flops in the winter. He doesn't look deaf. By that I mean a stranger looking at this scene wouldn't guess he couldn't hear the sounds he was generating. He was having a great time and told me he is excited to take music at school. This is a good example of why I never assume he can't do something. He may get bored with the idea later but that will be his decision not ours. I can't begin to understand why he likes music and dance but I can encourage him to explore anything the world presents.

So the funniest part of the night was the ride home. We stooped at a store in a kinda creepy area. My husband ran in to get something and I locked the doors of the car from the inside. When he came back I unlocked the door for him and the alarm went off. It was so loud people came outside and stared. We couldn't concentrate and tried starting the car and flipping switches. My son tried to tell us he knew what to do but my husband was so flustered he wasn't paying attention. Nothing was working and we didn't have the set of keys with the remote buttons so we decided in a chaotic fashion to drive home and get the keys. The noise had rendered us useless. As we backed out my son again offered to help. We parked he got out and grabbed the keys. He calmly told us to lock the doors again. He put the key in the door and unlocked them. Duh.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

I just spit coffee on my keyboard...

So it is Christmas Eve and all my work is done. I have free time for the next few hours and I came down to play around on my blog and catch up on emails. I have a fresh cup of java and the kids are busy getting ready. All is calm, life is good. Well I noticed a comment on my last post so I decided to read that first. As I read it I started to laugh so hard I spit coffee on my keyboard. My whole last post was about literacy and I had left out the MOST IMPORTANT element to success (yes that is my outside voice sorry), a common fluent language. It was an awesome comment and it also reminded me that I sometimes live in my own little world out of touch with the wider community. So I tried to put myself in the shoes of a parent that can't have in depth conversation with their child . I imagine it would look like this.

My post
"So I often see people stating that deaf children struggle to read. This is so strange for me because it is an area where my son doesn't struggle at all in fact he is way above grade level. I know of other deaf children who also not only excel but love to read.

My son tells me that at the deaf school the other kids don't like reading and I have also been told this by many of the children.

This morning I was just thinking what is the difference? Here are some thoughts I have,"

*At this point maybe the other parent is excited that I may have some answer, some idea they hadn't thought of! They begin to read and for one of many reason realize I am no help at all and come to think of it a bit odd.*

So just to clear up my mistake in order for any of my tips to work you must share a common fluent language with your child.

One challenge I face writing this blog is Deaf is just part of our family culture. We don't give it much thought. It is like brushing your teeth, you do it all the time but you don't discuss the toothbrush with anyone and the family doesn't engage in any tooth brushing activities. We sign all the time and don't give it much thought as to why, it just is. He doesn't have an audiologist or SLP. We don't have any special equipment on his body. He has a VP but we all use it so it seems typical. This blog is really forcing me to look at what we are. One thing I thought of after reading that comment is how close we are. A lot of people sign in this town so ASL is not a private language. If we are in public and don't want others to know what we a saying my son and I can have a conversation in code. We can read each others gestures, facial and body language. We know each other so well we can read each other. I never really thought about that before but it is kind of cool.

This is going to sound a bit harsh. We don't have a lot of hearing friends with deaf children. One reason is to be honest it sometimes makes makes me sad. It often is awkward also. I really want all kids to be happy so I don't judge. Here is a good example of why we don't mingle much,

When my son was four we went to a deaf playgroup. We met a family with a boy the same age and got along really well. There child had a CI. I noticed she was really tense and nervous when talking about her boy. I just sat and listened because I knew by then if I talked about what we do the conversation would end. My son was across a small field in a berry patch. He was waving at me. I looked over,
" Mom, I have to pee!"
" Tell dad he is right over there near that tree"
I turned back to my new friend and saw her face all tense,
"Did he understand what you said?"
At this point I admit I was horrified that maybe her son couldn't tell her when he needed to pee let alone all the other conversations one typically has with a child.
"Oh yea, he just needs to pee"

So last year my son went to Deaf camp. It is really fun and everyone signs. The same mom showed up with her son. I was excited to chat but soon felt a bit depressed. She started of by telling me how great her son was doing. ( I was so relieved because now we could just chat) I asked how the CI was for him. It turns out it broke and they couldn't communicate for three months. That is a pretty big deal in my book. The good news is he is learning to sign. My son said the CI kids were kind of left out because they didn't sign. He didn't even know their names.

I saw a father dropping of his son and lecturing him on the care of his CI. That was awkward all of the other families were laughing and taking pictures and this guy was drilling his son telling him how expensive all the pieces were. Another dad was talking to a deaf counselor, ugh. " So you read lips?". I don't really know these families so maybe I just caught them at a bad time.

Another thing that separates us from other families is my hearing daughter. She is trilingual. She was given ASL as a first language along with English. She attends a full immersion Spanish program. Many parents over the years have told me they needed to think about their hearing kids and ASL wouldn't work because of that. Well my daughter is just fine. She taught herself to read and write English, I wonder how that happened? I am learning Spanish from her but really only vocabulary. I can't imagine if that was the language we used for primary communication.

We do have one family that are close friends, they whole family, the four kids and parents, sign.

So this is in no way an attack on anyone just stuff I see outside of my little world and my take on it. I am nervous to even post this because I am sure someone will take it the wrong way. I am sure there are tons of kids who are really happy not doing what we do. Maybe I am doing the wrong thing. I just think that no matter what you decide having a common fluent language makes the journey more fun and less stressful. That is just my opinion.

So thank you for the wonderful comment!
Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

He is Deaf and Can Read....yea really

So I often see people stating that deaf children struggle to read. This is so strange for me because it is an area where my son doesn't struggle at all in fact he is way above grade level. I know of other deaf children who also not only excel but love to read.

My son tells me that at the deaf school the other kids don't like reading and I have also been told this by many of the children.

This morning I was just thinking what is the difference? Here are some thoughts I have,

We always expected him to read. We never bought into any of the stereotypes. If you raise the bar in your internal thinking the child will rise to the occasion. We didn't have a nervous stressed out approach to reading. He never sensed any fear of failure and this helps a lot. It was always fun. We made reading part of our natural daily rhythm. He was read books at all levels and allowed access to books everywhere.

When he was little we bought him some books for children that have both the ASL gloss and English word. His favorite was the ABC book by Linda Bove. We never bought anything that had SEE. We would read books over and over and sometimes change the story.

When he was about 5 we introduced chapter books. The challenge I had was keeping the book open while I signed. My husband found a weight at a book store that hold the pages open and that was solved. I think reading long stories over several nights motivated him to want to do it himself. If we had just stayed at his reading level he may have been bored and not realized what could do in the future if he learned to read.

We are a family of storytellers. I realized today each member of the family loves to tell stories. When my son was little my husband would dress up with a beard and funny coat and hat and visit us as story man. He really believed this old man had come to tell stories. When he was older he would dress up and join my husband to tell his sister stories. I think this also helped. Many parents are too self conscience to try and make up a story but really anyone can do it. Right now look around your computer and pick up an object. Tell a story about it. Just think of a crazy reason why that object could cause conflict. Maybe your child is not sharing. The story could be about a selfish prince who hoards paper clips leaving the village awash in unorganized paper. A good book to get started is "Storytelling With Children" by Nancy Mellon. Don't worry even if you are the most serious person nobody outside your house will see you so give it a try.

We live in a reading home. What I mean by this is we all love to read. I walked through the house to see how this looks and there was only 1 room (bathroom) that didn't have books. Both children have bookshelves full of books, the kitchen has cookbooks. The living room have a box of library books and 6 shelves packed. The basement has paperback, reference books for my husband and art books near where I paint. In my studio space upstairs again reference books, In our bedroom more books . My son sees us read for pleasure. I also read books with him if he tells me it might be of interest to me.

We encouraged him to read about what he was interested in. If he wants to learn something we go to the library. We don't teach him to depend on others to learn and don't jump on the computer first. If you want to learn to cook, get a cookbook. Need to fix your car? Well their are books for that. He loves comic books. So he has a ton of books on how to write and draw them. Once he came home and with his pants low showing his boxers. I was startled he wanted to follow the crowd on this one. I told him that the origin of that fashion was gang related. When a gang member goes to prison they take the belt so the pants fall down. The outside gang members do it out of solidarity. Or at least that is what I had been told. We talked about what is a gang. I explained there have always been gangs from pirates, terrorists and organized crime. We went and got books, we studied what a gang is. I told him he could wear his pants low if he did his research and still wanted to have people see him that way. Books give him power to be in control of his choices. He doesn't have to follow his peers if he has more information and he can always win the debate.

Reading is not homework, it is not a task. It is something we all do to expand and entertain ourselves. It is important that the child is following his interests. If he wants to read comic books and you want him to read classic literature it can cause conflict and steer him away from the joy of reading.

I think of other homes I have visited and it often strikes me that there are often no books. We show them the importance of their learning to read yet the home sends them another message. Even if a child attends a school where ASL is the language of direct instruction they still come home. a parent is a child's first teacher. Have you noticed how if a dad is really into sports the child often follows? If a home is full of music the child usually absorbs the same interest? If you don't read the message is not natural that they should.

My son reads so much that at times in the past I have had to restrict it. He reads while eating, often while walking and I suspect sometimes while sleeping. He is so busy at school now there is much more balance. He still reads a lot but has more activities with his peers to keep him busy. I still think it is funny that I am one of the few moms of a deaf kid who has to deal with all of the books.

So my advice would be if you want your child to read, read yourself. Don't focus on the outcome of your child's literacy, enjoy the process. Expect him to read, deaf does not equal illiterate. Most important find ways to tell him you love him everyday.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The ups and downs

About two years ago.....

My son was mainstreamed half days at the public school across the street. For the most part it was fine. I would go to his class once a week and teach ASL when he wasn't there. The kids were so excited to learn and it gave me a way to observe what was going on. What struck me as odd is the teacher never learned more than maybe 3 signs. The kids after awhile could voice off with me. When he would arrive later in the day they never signed with him. He had friends but they would just pass notes. There were other things that didn't work here is one example,

My son was working on something and a woman walked in

"Your special needs right?"

(interpreter has to interpret)

My son stares at her shocked because she has made a mistake. We don't think of him that way. He is just a typical kid who doesn't hear.

"No wrong kid"

"You are Hayden right? Well I need you to give the flyer to your mom. It is about a meeting for parents of special needs kids. It is a support group and she will want to join"

(interpreter again must give him this information while she is very upset)

" I am not special needs" He signs to his interpreter that this woman is crazy and rude.


I still get a rush of excitement when I pick my son up from school. Tonight I picked him up around 6:30 after a Comedia mask workshop. He won't let me leave the parking lot. I must turn on the overhead light so he can tell me what he did tonight. He has such passion for all this and often I have no idea what it is but revel in his joy. I am learning with him because he wants to share everything.

We come home and I cook dinner. I play with his sister while he reads. When dinner is ready he asks me to sit and chat for a minute before the family joins us. He had a good day he tells me but he was grouchy in dance class. Why I ask? Well his dance interpreter wasn't there so he had a sub. His regular interpreters know if he looks away they can just stop and wait for him to look again. In dance he knows the moves and needs to concentrate after the teacher tells them what to do. The teacher is so aware of how he works and will come to him for coaching if he needs it.

Today the sub made sure he saw everything. If he looked away she would run over and stand in his eye line and keep signing. At one point they had to sit in a crunch position and spread their legs in the air. nervous he wouldn't get the info the sub stood in front of him a foot away looking down at him.......if you are deaf you know how weird this feels.

"Mom how weird!!!!!! I know it is for a short time so I try and be nice but that was not comfortable. "

So the point I want to make is that if you are an interpreter fo my son at school and he looks away in class don't physically follow his eye line! He knows where the teacher is. If you are close to the teacher he will look when he needs to. Also sometimes after long hours of mainstream his eyes need a short break. He may look away for a moment to rest his eyes and if you leap over chairs to get in front of him you are doing no good. He looks away when he knows what to do or has enough information. I imagine other deaf folks do the same. He is not a kid who is "special needs" and can't find the teacher. I understand why you may do this but rest assured if you just interpret and leave the rest to him you have done your job.

OK hope that wasn't too harsh, just it is so funny on our end.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

Here is a brief description of how my son ended up fully mainstreamed and loving it even though we are strong bi/bi advocates.

When he was a baby we chose to focus on language and literacy. That lead us to ASL and written English. We concentrated on learning ASL to gain fluency and seeking the support of the deaf community for appropriate social development.


Not enough support from early intervention services getting access to trained deaf professionals

We had to do all the research ourselves in a topic we knew nothing about

few social peers

Few parent peers (only one family)


A supportive Deaf community made sure we learned the ropes and coached us. Also they helped provide a natural environment.

Socializing with deaf adults helped improve our signing

My son had a typical life free of any stress that might effect his self esteem or cause frustration

We chose the state deaf school to insure social development and academic access. His teachers were specifically trained to educate deaf children in their native language and many were deaf. Our plan was to keep him at grade level and look into mainstreaming around the age of nine if needed and he showed interest. We thought he would benefit from direct instruction in ASL and a deaf peer group.


No academic peer group

small classes- with a class of under 10 he had to choose friends based on availability not similar interests

No ASL curriculum- he was never formally taught his native language

No arts program really


The teachers could individualize his lessons and provide challenge

The opportunity for deaf adult role models

Professional educators with a deaf ed back round

Direct communication

lessons taught in a way that best suits a deaf child

Membership in a strong supportive community

The teachers for the most part were creative and pushed the children to be critical thinkers


In the third grade his teachers told me he was to far ahead of the other children to be challenged so we decided to mainstream a half day to test the water. I was concerned about him socially and academically if he didn't have direct instruction in ASL and a language peer group but wanted to remain flexible. At first he loved it. It was something new. Later he just got bored. I was told when there rarely was a group brainstorm session he would lead his group because the others didn't know how really. I think after seeing the kids and class first hand that maybe it is in part due to the teaching to test that goes on. We did this for two years and then at his request sent him back full time to the deaf school. He wasn't really happy anywhere at this point but at least at the deaf school he didn't have to have an interpreter.


Teachers had no back round in deaf ed

Interpreters acted like aides not professional interpreters. My son was not interested in a one-on-one and this was insulting

He was not allowed to go anywhere without his interpreter

The children were not interested in the same things, he doesn't like wrestling and monster trucks. I feared he would not be able to socialize but I was wrong. He was really popular but the other kids interests were boring for him.

No natural social communication. I volunteered one hour a week to teach the kids ASL. They could voice off with me but never signed to my son.

The kids for the most part were not academically challenging for him


When he was in the fifth grade he auditioned to get into the Vancouver School of Arts and Academics. He was accepted. If he didn't get in we had no other options so we are very grateful. This school is grades 6-12 and the classes are mixed age. All students are required to takes classes in all of the art forms. It is very academic and all of the kids really want to be there.

His schedule doesn't allow for him to participate in any of the activities at the deaf school which worried me at first but he doesn't seem to care. His schedule during the day alternates. One day is world studies/literary arts, math , science the next day is literary arts/world studies, dance and theater. After school is ASL club and rehearsal for a Comedia del arte theater company. The earliest he gets out of school is 4pm the latest is 10pm.

The mode of communication socially is ASL. His friends are all hearing but conversational in ASL. A few have learned to sign after meeting him. For those who want to learn and can't get into the ASL class because it is full he gives them "100 Signs For Parents" published by Dawnsign Press. One of interpreter tells me it is amazing. Some kids are learning basic signs and finger spelling then they learn the signs they need by fingerspelling and don't need to use the interpreter. One example of how cool the kids are,

He was in the library before school with a high school friend. He was making noise (he still doesn't have a handle on that). The librarian asked his friend to teach him library skills. She told her no. If she wanted him to learn she would have to tell him herself. She told her that is was really insulting then offered to interpret.

The staff is very concerned he has access to everything and often go way out of their way to do so. They treat him like all of the other kids and show excitement that he is there. They never treat him like a special needs kids. They had a deaf student two years ago so most teachers understand what is needed. In dance they use a large drum for rhythm. He has a silent amp for music and a note taker in math for a teacher who lectures and requires notes.

He has two very skilled professional interpreters. They only interpret class and don't follow him around. After class he jets out to find his friends for a quick chat. When he arrives at his next class the interpreter is there ready to work. They are both lovely people and understand his need for Independence. They don't take on the role of guardian or aide.

For the first time he has it all, social peers, academic challenge and art but it is not at the deaf school. What is important to understand is it is BECAUSE of the deaf school that he is so happy here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Today is Thanksgiving and in a couple of hours my family will go to my mothers to celebrate. I was thinking about what I am grateful for and there is just too much for one post so I decided to focus on one Thanksgiving that for me was the most important.

About 8 years ago.....

My son had a best friend he had met at school. When I first found out a year earlier I was so excited. We had been so excited when he started preschool because for the first time he would be able to socialize with other deaf children who were fluent in ASL. I asked the teachers if they could contact this boy's mom to set up a play date. They told me she was very strict but they would help us connect. Then I found out she was from El Salvador and a single mother of six. She had very limited English and was just starting to sign. This information didn't mean anything to me because I thought I had a pretty open mind.

I was so excited when she agreed. The conditions of our meeting was she wanted to see my house and meet me before she would allow her son to come over. Of course I understood this and even respected it. the problem was I don't know Spanish and she wasn't fluent enough in ASL or English. To solve this problem I invited a neighbor who was fluent in Spanish to interpret. The mother didn't have a car so I picked her up at the school. The meeting went well and she seemed fine with me but a bit worried that I wasn't a Christian. The rule for her son coming over was that his older brother who was 10 at the time was to chaperon. We arranged a time and date for us to pick up the boys.

We were not prepared for what we saw as we got closer to their home. It was located in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods. When we found it we parked and people were starring at us because we were so out of place. This neighborhood is know for a lot of gang activity. I have to admit I was scared. The family was living in a one room apartment that had been separated into four sections. It was smaller than our living room. I have never seen such poverty and tried to act natural. The mother was a gracious host and offered me what I later learned was papusas a famous dish in El Salvador. At first I denied the food thinking I didn't want her to give me something her family needed but she was insistent. Her son interpreted for us.

We brought the boys to our house and they and a blast. It was a normal play date just like hearing kids have. I was thrilled. The boys were so polite and responsible. I couldn't wait to set up more. Over the next year our families became very close. One would think this family needed our help but to be honest we were equal in generosity. That relationship taught me about respect and dignity. I had thought I was empathetic and liberal in my view of the world but I learned my "charity" and "compassion" was a bit misguided and often paternalistic. I had thought I knew what was best for a family like this but it turns out I was judging them from what I thought was the right thing to do not what was best for them. For this lesson I am eternally grateful. It is just one of the many times having a Deaf son has made me grow into a better person. This mother made sure her whole family learned to sign so her son was never excluded.

One example of this lesson still makes us all laugh. I assumed they needed the kinds of material things we had. One day I brought over an expensive Kettler tricycle that my son had outgrown. I saw the the look on the mothers face that said, "oh Mel, you silly girl" She was always polite but I could sense she thought I was a bit of a goofy creature. We were so different but she never judged us. The next time I visited a few days later the trike was outside missing the wheels and seat. It looked like those cars you see on the side of the road that have been stripped. It dawned on me the tricycle was more of a burden to her. She had no place to store it and felt responsible because it was a gift. Her children played just like other children all over America and didn't need a lot of junk to enjoy it.

So after knowing this awesome family for one year we decided to invite them to our Thanksgiving dinner. By this time the mother and all six kids could sign so we had no trouble communicating. We took two cars to go pick them up and by this time I no longer feared the area. The mother cooked a turkey Salvadorian style and I cooked one my way. She brought a lot of food and we cooked together in my kitchen. She taught me about her native spices and how to make nopales. It was the most delicious Thanksgiving ever. It was a tradition with us to have family time after dinner. The kids could perform or read us a poem or story. The children of this family had decided to write letters of gratitude to us. I still have them. They wrote about friendship, laughter and learning. Not one mention about our two different lifestyles.


I am still grateful for this friendship.

We still keep in touch with this family. Since that time both families have moved so it isn't very often. We were their first call when they got their VP. The Sorenson guy looked a little shocked to see us gringos on the other end. The two oldest sons now attend college. The deaf son often talks to my son about what college they want to go to. He has been in the same bi/bi school and fully intends to pursue a higher education. I haven't figured out how to turn on the sound on the VP so both families sign. It would be kind of fun though for my daughter to be able to speak Spanish with them.

Sometimes parents tell me they want to learn to sign but they don't have time or it is too hard. I have empathy for this but to be honest not a whole lot of compassion. Yes, I know that is judgemental. It just doesn't make sense to me when I have seen so many families with mutiple challenges in life find a way to learn.

I am still learning what is best for my son and I am grateful for all of the lessons his deafness brings our family. I am also grateful for all of the people who we have met because of him.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Show Pony

This post is just an observation. It is just my rambling thoughts which are not positive or negative.

About 10 years ago.......

One thing that has always been a challenge raising a deaf child is the responsibility cast on my son to perform. With his education professionals and parents are always watching him. From a very young age everything he did was scrutinized. People look at his progress hoping for success or failure depending on their beliefs. He is always on stage. At this early stage of his development I had boxes of documents concerning his growth. They are the party favors from scores of meetings focused on his claim to this world. The evaluations were always stressful because he may have an off day or become bored with the tester.

I asked for an ASL evaluation and was told he was to young. I pressured for it and got my wish. He was almost three years old. The people who administered the test were deaf. There was a teacher from the charter school and an aide. My son was excited to be in the room full of toys but wasn't really in the mood to preform for the teacher and camera. So instead of sitting sweetly answering the questions he wiggled his way under a bench to play hide and seek. The proof of his fluency was my conversations with him trying to convince his to do the test. We were able to finally finish the test after some patient redirection.

I remember the times we would be in hearing environments and he could never just blend in. It was always the quiet center that he was deaf. At this age he wasn't aware that people watched him. If we wanted to go to an avent I had to arrange for an interpreter. Sometimes people would be critical if he got bored and didn't pay attention even though the hearing kids were doing the same thing. Others would be supportive but didn't realize their well meaning questions and attention again brought that focus that makes it hard for him to blend in. If I had to push for accommodation the pressure would be on to make sure we went. If he was having a bad day we had to go anyway because I made such a fuss to get the interpreter.

There were many funny moments. Often when we would go to restaurants people would just feel so comfortable staring at us. We would voice off and they didn't know we could hear them. It is so odd to hear someone talk about you unfiltered. Often folks would just walk up and start to sign. Once a woman was so excited to show off her skills she interrupted us arms flying and started to sign the alphabet. Honestly what are we suppose to do with that? We were always polite but sometimes had the impulse to walk up to strangers and sing the alphabet song at random moments. It was interesting trying to explain to my son why strangers would walk up and spell their name and then just stare blankly.

In many ways our life was typical but there were many ways it just wasn't.


My son lives in a strange world. He is very comfortable being deaf but wishes there were more people like him. He is still having to perform.

When I arranged to go to a play recently he needed to show gratitude for all of the special attention from the theater company. He got to talk to the actors and directer. It was really cool don't get me wrong. He was very happy but really I think he wishes he could just go places and blend into the crowd. It would be nice to just decide on impulse to go see a movie or play.

The school he attends is so welcoming. He does however need to learn what to do when kids walk up and sign "hi". He responds, "hi". Then the other child just stands there. The first day of school everyone swarmed him. They were so excited to have a deaf kid at school. It is kind of like being a foreign exchange student. The other new sixth graders could quietly get oriented. So this is not bad but just much different than the other kids.

He is the only deaf kid and sometimes that is lonely. It would be so cool if a bunch of deaf kids applied to this school but they don't. So we are trying to find ways to stay connected to the deaf world. There is also the pressure of mainstreaming with a mom like me. People thought because of my beleifs he would never mainstream. As always we are just piecing it all together the best we can.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

When simple seems like a dream

About 10 years ago........

What I am writing is just what I felt at this time. It is in no way am attempt to judge others experience and is unique to our family. It is really hard to just tell exactly what was on my mind because it is such a touchy subject but I think it is important for my son to know what was going through our minds right or wrong.

We had this idea that if the Early Intervention program would just allow parents the opportunity to experience ASL in a group setting with deaf adults we all could benefit. It seemed so simple and we couldn't figure out why others didn't get it. There was nowhere in the system to accommodate this. There was the option of going to the charter school for ASL lessons but nothing really that modeled a fully inclusive environment for us with our kids.

I asked for my son's IFSP to be amended what felt like a million times. I worked my way through the chain of command. Just today I sat down and looked at my son's IFSP from our second year in the system. We had a new home visit teacher who was hh and hired in part because of our pleas for a deaf teacher. She was awesome and a wee bit naive. We had 11 outcomes listed on our IFSP and they all were concerned with ASL and exposure to deaf adults in a group setting. We had prepared the wording before the meeting so the school district would be legally obligated to comply once it was signed. Of course she wrote it all down and everyone signed but of course it didn't happen and we fought harder.

The folks involved all thought I was crazy because my son was fine in fact exceeding benchmarks for hearing kids. If he was fine why was I fighting? Well.... he needed peers and I knew once he grew past the stage of play that is typical for a 2 year old, once he became a critical thinker, once he needed other children to learn how to enter the world he would be at a disadvantage.

I was also so frustrated that other parents were asking for help and sent down the rabbit hole of "non bias support". It was the stance of the system to not try and influence the choices of the parent and yet that stance left the parent without any information beyond the programs set up by the schools.The programs were set up by folks who believed in a certain philosophy. It really presents as a bias approach and wastes a great deal of time while the parent researches and decides where to go. While they wait they are influenced by the teachers college back round. Educators are practicing what they are taught and there were (maybe still?) not enough college programs that support ASL as a first native language. So I felt my son deserved the right to be educated by and with people who shared our philosophy of ASL as a native language. This of course is my opinion of what we were experiencing. I am sure others did not feel this way.

Well I could go on and on about why I still wanted change....


My son became the ripe old age of twelve last week. Birthdays are always such an measure of where we are at.

About a week before I asked him what he wanted to do to celebrate. He wasn't sure. I suggested a party with some of his hearing and deaf friends. He didn't really jump at that. It tuns out his deaf friends don't like the stuff his hearing friends like. We didn't really know what to do. He decided to just invite his CODA friend for a fun outing and a sleep over.

The next day his new hearing friends ( ASL students who hang out with him every day at school) texted me to tell me they were planning a surprise party for him. I offered up my house and pizza they did the rest. It was really fun and a big surprise. After the party they all went to a musical at school. There were two interpreters and they meant to have his silent amp on his chair but the new sound board wasn't set up for it. He still loved the play.

The next day a teacher and mentor told me about a Comedia Del Arte play at a local university. My son is in a commedia play right now and would jump at the chance to see it. I had a week to get interpreters. The directer emailed me and said he was trying to figure it out and that they had never had a request like this at the theater. I expected the worst and pleasantly surprised when they not only got two theater interpreters but the directer met us at the door and walked us to our seats. He talked with my son and had the actors come introduce themselves. When it was time for the play to start the sang happy ASL.

He tells me this is his best birthday ever. What hit me was there were no deaf people involved and this felt really strange. He didn't seem to notice. I have to admit I am a bit confused.If 10 years ago had someone told me my son would be mainstreamed full time and very happy I would have laughed. Had someone suggested he wouldn't be isolated but in fact very social with his hearing friends again that would have solicited a laugh and perhaps an eye roll. I believe that because we did raise his in a bi/bi enviroment he has the tools to navigate the world. He is still Deaf but it does not define him. He doesn't want to be hearing and celebrates deaf culture. He does however also love the rest of what life has to offer. He has reached an age where I don't need to choreograph every aspect of his life. I will slowly step back and watch him suceed or fail on his terms. I will not look to the future pretending to know what will happen next but I will fasten my seat belt and enjoy the ride.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Send In The Clowns

Next week we will be celebrating my son's 12th birthday. I have found his birthday celebrations to be a good window into where we were at.

Eleven years and ago.........

I have made many mistakes as a parent. One I am a wee bit embarrassed to admit is I am a little too into being a parent. I have mellowed in a good way, but when he was born I was kind of crazy. We were not really kid people before but suddenly we were knocked head over heels in love with this little person who entered our lives. Everything he did was cause for celebration. I wanted to do all of the mommy stuff. I couldn't wait until he could sit in a swing or bring home macaroni art that would be framed and admired by all. Our friends didn't have kids so he became their outlet for buying every object that could be applied to child. In short for the first few years he was spoiled.

As his first birthday approached I went into high gear planning the celebration. We would invite everyone! I imagined a huge outdoor party with tons of food and decorations. Since we had recently discovered he was deaf I wanted the most visually pleasing environment so I went nuts. My level headed husband pointed out none of our friends had kids so it may be a bit odd to throw a party for a one year old attended by adults humouring my mommy obsession. I calmed his fears by explaining we would just tell folks it is a BBQ for his birthday and make it more adult. As luck would have it a ten year old actor was a guest star on my show. I have had a lot of exposure to child actors and she was the only one who didn't seem effected by her work even though she had stared in a major motion picture. She met my son on the set and she told her dad she wanted to come to his birthday party. It was so cute that she had her dad ask me and he said he understood if I didn't want her to go. Well heck yea! I didn't have any kids on the guest list yet! What a strange life we lead, I was searching for kids like a movie casts extras.. One of the guys on the crew had 2 kids so we were set! At the party the guests honored my request of no high end brand names or loud toys (membership has it's privileges) by giving us the entire line of Ralph Lauren apparel and a drum set just to mention a few of the gifts. Very funny guys. I don't think we had any deaf people at this party but I had invited a teacher or two. My husband and I were frantically trying to sign everything.

Ten years ago......

His second birthday was just as big but about half of the families were deaf and most of my friends could sign enough to get by. We were knee deep in anger at the School district and I was a bit of a soapbox mom about Deaf Ed. I was angry because all these hearing people paid to help me were treating me like a crazy person. I was grateful because we had a deaf community picking up the slack with gentle, generous hands.

Nine years ago........

Birthday number three is the one which really best illustrates what it was like for me being a hearing mom of a deaf son at this time. I am not deaf. I tried and provide my son with a quality of life that is as assessable as possible so I tried and think ahead about everything I did so I didn't trip and make a mistake that would effect his feelings about himself. He never saw this at a young age and I planned it that way. I had a "plan" if he felt his deafness was just a characteristic like hair color he would be strong enough to face the challenges that may come later. My husband and I tried to live as much as we could as Deaf/hearing parents. What I mean by this is nothing we did excluded him if we could help it. The problem was we hadn't had the early support from folks we thought were going to help us and well, we are not deaf.....

He was turning three which was huge. It meant we could leave behind the frustration of early intervention and enter the world of bi/bi preschool. It was a time surrounded by supportive deaf community from all walks of life and hearing friends who had chosen to join us in celebrating our new life.

I asked my son what he wanted for a theme for his birthday. He had just gone to a circus so he told me a circus party and he wanted a clown. Well we had just gone to a hearing party where the family had a hired entertainer. I decided my son deserved the same thing. I first asked around if anyone knew a deaf party entertainer, nope. I then called the deaf association, nope. I then resorted to the phone book. I refused to believe my son couldn't have that clown because he was deaf. At this point I want to mention I am not a fan of party clowns they are kinda scary to me. I called and called. Finally I called and a man told me they had one person who signed so I booked her.

This is the first time folks helped plan the party. His Deaf babysitter baked a circus cake and made decorations with me, Another deaf friend helped plan games. I found some wood set columns being tossed on the set and the crew helped me cut them into pieces and paint them like a circus ring. This party was a gathering, a celebration with a community.

The day of the party was awesome. Friends arrived and communicated freely. Tons of children showed up fingers flying. Life felt very good. Then down the road approached a dented economy car in need of a good wash. From this death trap emerged a young woman in a clown suit. I was a professional costumer so I have a sense about apparel in terms of how to develop character. I found this ability often spilled into my daily life. I could tell a lot about a person by what they wore. This clown was also in need of a wash. Her costume and props were a little too well loved to present as professional. As I approached her I noticed she was nervous scanning the crowd. I introduced myself voice off because I assumed she was fluent. She looked at me in terror, oh crap, she can't really sign. She gathered the children and began her routine. She signed at a first year high school level. I was so horrified and embarrassed! The parents who were standing around the performance began to make jokes, myself included. We knew we were signing so fast she couldn't understand.

My son turned to me and said, "Mom she is weird, what is she doing?"

I told him it was rude to make fun of people.

I was so embarrassed in front of my Deaf friends. I didn't show it but I felt like a failure. I couldn't even throw a party for my deaf son. Later I looked at the tape and saw the adults pulverizing that girl while she went on with her act clueless we all thought it was a joke. The party was a lot of fun and the clown was just a point of humour.

A short time later we attended a party for a deaf of deaf child. They had a deaf performer who did her routine on stilts and juggled. My son LOVED it.

Here is what I reflect back on

It was a lot like Early Intervention getting help for my party. I am hearing and need the help of deaf adults to learn the ropes, because the people in charge of this help are hearing and only involved with deafness as a job. I was left with having to go to great extremes for an ineffective outcome.

I also am now embarrassed that I was so cruel to this girl. We were not rude in a way she understood so she doesn't even know but if I had been more secure with my abilities to parent a deaf child I would have been more empathetic. Looking at her attire I should of realized she was maybe in desperate need of income perhaps and couldn't afford the dry cleaning bill. She was probably offered the job and assumed it was a hearing family with a deaf child who really didn't sign. I had used my voice to place the order. A lot of hearing families didn't voice off when they sign. She probably put ASL down on her application under other skills because she had taken a class in High School. She was wrong to take the job but I understood why perhaps she did.

The worst part of the whole story is I reprimanded my son for doing exactly what I was doing.


My son is excited to turn twelve. His life is much bigger now than when he was say 10. His favorite class is modern dance. I know that sounds strange but trust me it is a ton of fun for him and he has an awesome teacher. I find that I underestimated him. I really thought dance would be a bore for him. A Deaf friend tells me she love dance and I souldn't be surprised.

Happy Birthday kiddo, I am one really proud mama.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dear Miss Kat's Parents

Dear Miss Kat's Parents,
Thank you for your comment on my recent post about car alarms. I realized when I read it that folks may not understand my point. So I will try and clear that up. I tend to have a certain style of writing that is not always a point by point presentation. I am writing this for my son and if I were to do that he would be asleep in seconds. I am leaving thoughts for him to ponder that are my own based on my own experience. I can not change what I felt back then and I am sorry if my opinions at that time frustrate you more. I realize that my blog is public so I wish to approach it with great care.

I don't know you or your daughter just as you don't know my family. Judging from your comment I am guessing (since I don't know you I am left to guess) that I represent a type of person you know. Perhaps a type that frustrates you and doesn't see you working so hard to what is best for her child. Perhaps this type of person just doesn't get how you did give your daughter a native language etc. I am sorry for this. I try to only post my opinions on things I experience first hand.

About the post I hope this helps,

Quote from your comment

"Please don't paint all parents with children who are learning spoken language with the same brush. Unless you have lived with their children, and know them, you can not judge."

I should have clearly stated my point.
*note to my son, this is the kind of writing I do that bores you, feel free to go make a sandwich and tune in later*

This woman had very little in the way of clear information. She was so desperate for her son to hear she took the slightest hint that he could respond to sound to make a serious decision.

The mother in this post does not resemble you at all. She had limited ASL skills, her son did not have a CI (that is is just a fact and not an opinion on CIs) and his only real access to language was at school. Since unlike your daughter I knew him well I did know he did not respond to any sound from what I could tell. His mother talked at him so I imagine if he had the critical thinking skills to wrestle with the complex idea of hearing he may have had an opinion. Since he had not fluent language or the age to develop critical thinking skills that would be a super hero task in my opinion. He did not try and express himself with speech. My own son however does respond to the vibration of a car alarm. This mother told me that the specific reason she was going oral was because he responded to a car alarm. I did later see him and I chose not to reflect on that but the post was after seeing the outcome.

About the other children in this post, again I don't see how I took a paint brush to your daughter. I know all of the children from the hours of volunteer work I did at the school. They often shared their stories with me. I often interpreted for them to their families at social events. Some did have a CI but their mom's did not resemble you so again I am confused. I read my post again and don't see where I mentioned a family who used ASL, had a bi/bi program (we had one for only 1 1/2 years) has a child with a CI who wants to go to an oral school. So I am sorry if you saw your family in this post.

What I do see is me, a mom who belongs to a very tiny minority of hearing parents who are frustrated. I see a mom who has seen what can happen when a child is given no language naturally.

What is a bit sad to me is that I have read your blog and I am sure if we met you would find I am not the person your think I am in fact we have a lot in common. In my opinion many parents of deaf children would be less frustrated if they reached out to each other. That is a can of worms though. This also makes me wonder how you decided to read my blog. I assumed my demographic to be few Deaf adults, bi/bi parents ( I guess that would be about 2% of parents of deaf children and maybe 2 would find me), and students. In short I never imagined anyone would take notice since I have been advocating for kids for years and folks just don't care to listen to me. So thanks for reading.

I hope this helps. Sorry to post this so publicly but maybe if I do others that may be lurking can get a clear idea of my perspective. Don't worry my friend nobody listens to me.

Warmest wishes,
Mom just like you

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Warmest Regards, Mother of Deaf child

Dear Early Intervention Specialist,

I am so excited we met you! After our meeting I felt so relieved that there was a system in place to help us navigate this new territory with our newly identified deaf son. I must admit I was scared but after talking with you I feel so confident. I never imagined that there would be so many things for us to access for help. My husband and I are working on learning sign language and are curious about our options. I can't wait for our meeting next week!

Warmest regards,
Mother of deaf infant


Dear parent of deaf infant,

It was great meeting you! It is so rare that parents wants to sign. We are really excited to work with you. I can't tell you how frustrated we get. So I am giving you some information to look over. We need to evaluate your son and get him on an IFSP. That just gives us an idea of where he is at so we can better service him.

Early Intervention Specialist


Dear Early Intervention Specialist,

Thank you again! It is such a relief to have someone to talk with about this. Do we have to wait for the evaluation to get some help? I have been doing some reading and it tells me we have a child who has been without language for almost a year. We are tying our best but feel nervous. Again than you for your help.

Warmest regards,
Mother of deaf infant

Dear parent of deaf infant,

Don't worry, once we get the IFSP we can help you.

Early Intervention Specialist


Dear Early Intervention Specialist,

So we had that IFSP meeting, thanks! Can we get an ASL teacher to come to our home now? Our friends feel weird that they can't communicate and they are having a hard time trying to find a class.

Also when do we get to have a deaf adult come and show us the ropes?

Mother of deaf infant


Mrs. Mother of deaf infant

Well you didn't have that included in your IFSP. We need to have a meeting for that.


Early Intervention Specialist


Early Intervention specialist,

Oh, sorry I didn't understand. I am so focused right now I didn't think to research the fine print. Can we schedule another appointment for that please?

Mother of Deaf infant.

mrs. mother of deaf Infant,

I will be coming to visit you next week. We can discuss it then.



Oh, OK, we need help now.......


Saturday, November 7, 2009

I Hate Car Alarms

About 8 years ago....

On Saturdays during the summer my family would always set out on an adventure. One such day found us in Santa Monica shopping. We had stopped at an outdoor ice cream shop for a snack. My son was trying convince me to invite his friend for a sleep over and it was beginning to be a bit of a whiny exchange when I said no. I looked out on the sidewalk and saw a mother of a child that attended the same Bi/bi preschool as my son. I invited her to join us. I was relieved to have a distraction because to be honest my son was driving me nuts. Yes, even though I love him to bits and he is amazing he is a typical kid and I am a typical mom and sometimes he would whine and I would get frustrated.

We started our conversation with the usual polite inquiries. How is your family? Enjoying your summer? I was a wee bit frustrated that she wasn't signing so I had to interpret the whole conversation. My pleasant distraction was not helping by talking.

I asked if her son was excited for school to start.

She said she realized her son wanted to hear.

She was going to transfer him to the oral program because of a car alarm. He had responded to a car alarm and based on that he would go to an oral class,

based on that the district would honor her wishes and support her decision

based on that she would stop signing,

based on that he was now cut off from the deaf community

based on that he would most likely not have a naturally acquired native language

based on that he would struggle to grasp English

based on that he would most likely have academic and social delays

based on that people would blame the delays on the child and his deafness, my guess is at the age of four he really didn't want to hear

and based on that I hate car alarms.

Today, historically from what I have seen......

I was surprised that a lot of the deaf kids at the state deaf school where so behind their hearing peers academically. I knew most of them from volunteering and they were smart, creative kids. There were only a handful of kids in elementary but many more in the upper grades. The answer, they tell me is because many mainstream to begin with and the families often don't sign much so by the time they reach middle school or high school they are labeled as failures and shipped off to the deaf school to undo the damage.

At the deaf school they maybe find community for the first time. They are often taught by educated deaf adults who understand how they can easily access the curriculum. They can socialize in the comfort of their accessible language and have deaf adults to model culture, humor and folklore.

I often daydream and think what if? So what if the family starts signing early, in fact all families? What if they are supported with speech,English, ASL, and community. What if the parents are introduced to the world they have entered with their child by someone who has first hand knowledge? What if because they had this support they will enter the world on equal terms? What if the reverse happens and they mainstream later and find success? What if they stay at the deaf school and still find success?What if we let go a bit? What if we give up a wee bit of control?

Everything I post is just my feelings from raising my deaf son. I am posting for my son to understand his history and family. I in no way wish to upset anyone.

To Read Or Not To Read...

Last night my son came to me and stated it was time he read some Shakespeare. He wants to know what all the fuss is about. He also found out that his reading fluency tests at the 11th grade level and he is in the 6th grade. He wants to improve so he is trying to challenge himself.

Well that means I am going to have to read it also so I can answer questions. My first exposure to Shakespeare was when I was thirteen and I must admit it was under duress. I began to really enjoy it but that was almost thirty years ago and my brain is a bit more weary. We'll see how it goes. As a teenager I was a bit of a rebel and an acceptance letter to a school I applied to stated that they looked forward to my presence at their school. I was to be a challenge much like Katherine in "Taming of The Shrew". Perhaps this is the play we will start with.

About 11 years ago......

Literacy is a hot topic for deaf children and one we didn't take lightly. We knew that our son needed to be literate to fully enjoy life. I didn't have any educational back round in this area so it meant I had to do some research. What seemed very obvious is language holds the key. A hearing child must have a native language to access the written form. How were we to give our son access to the written form of English if his native language didn't have a written form? He needed a naturally acquired language first and his only way to acquire language naturally was visually. Yikes!

I can't pretend to have the key but here is a sample of what we did and it seemed to work.

1. ASL. Plain and simple fluency in a naturally acquired language is more than half the battle.

2. We read, we read a lot. Every day we would read to him. We would sign the words and then allow him time to look at the pictures. We would show him the text by pointing then show him the sign. We would often sign right on the book. We would read the same story over and over. I am grateful I may never have to read "Goodnight Moon" again. We would expand on the stories asking questions about the characters and pictures. We would sometimes ask what if questions like "What if there was a cupcake under the bed? Would you say goodnight or gobble it up?"

3. We would act out stories we read. His favorite were Billy Goats Gruff and The Three Little Pigs. This seemed to help him understand the structure of the story. There is a beginning , middle and end. This is also a great way for the family to involve a deaf child. I know a mom who has four kids, one is deaf. She was frustrated that the hearing kids were not including her deaf daughter enough in their play. She tried reading a story and having the whole family act it out. Everyone had fun and hear deaf daughter was thrilled.

4. We would draw pictures and have him tell a story and then we would dictate what he said under the picture. He liked to give the pictures to people and "read" them the stories.

5. We pointed out text everywhere. For example if I was reading a poster I would sign along as I read. I would read labels at the store while signing and menus at restaurants.

6. Finger spell. One of his first signs was ELMO

7. Make grocery lists and draw pictures of the items. We would have him find the items and put them in the basket.

8. I made a book with pictures of everything we did. One page might be grandma's house or items we used a lot like sink. I would label the pictures. We used this to show him where we were going or what we were doing.

9. I am a wee bit embarrassed to admit I labeled the house. My husband thought is was funny when we had guests over and they sat on a CHAIR at the TABLE.

So this is some of the stuff we did when he was little. It was not boot camp but tools we would use. We didn't ever force him. If he didn't want to read no big deal. We allowed him to set the pace. If it wasn't fun we didn't do it. Most of these ideas came from workshops, parents and teachers. I wish it would of just been all in one place.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chaplin on Halloween

About 9 years ago......

So it was Halloween just before my son's third birthday. We had been fighting the school district for ASL based services and although they offered some of what we wanted is was mostly weak interpretations of the desired service. The big needs were not met. So we had fashioned our own little world to try and fix some of it.

By now we had many deaf friends from all walks of life and deaf babysitters. We also had friends who were teachers in a bi/bi setting. We tried to expose our son to these friends often. Many of our hearing friends had been able to learn some sign.

We had the idea to throw a huge Halloween party for all of our friends. This was brave because it meant inviting (but not limited to) hearing, deaf, young, old, teachers, film workers, old college friends, right wing republicans, far left democrats, Mormons,atheists, Texas cheerleaders, every race and a hair stylist. We wanted everyone to enjoy themselves and feel comfortable. We bought tons of food and decorated. It was so much fun getting ready then my husband decided to voice an opinion on our decor.

I had a fear my son would be delayed in reading so I was constantly exposing him to written English. Grocery lists were labeled with little pictures next to the words, we read every day and pointed to writing on every object we encountered. One day I decided to label the entire house. I made handwritten cards to paste all over, chair, table, sink etc. No object in our cozy home escaped my obsession. Had I thought of it I am sure I would have made two more labels for mom and dad.

So as we were decorating for the party my husband suggested perhaps we could remove the labels. I actually resisted. I was so scared that he wouldn't learn to read I had become a bit over zealous. My husband won that with the agreement that they would all go back up first thing in the morning.

It was a costume party. My son wanted to be charlie Chaplin and he wanted me to be Chaplin also. The day of the party we got dressed and waited for our guests. We were nervous because although we had a rainbow tribe many had never met.

This is what I learned

Deaf people tend to be late. I had been told about deaf standard time but this was a very clear example of where the term came from.

Hearing people form little groups on one side of the room deaf on the other. A few nervous hearing people gather outside.

The deaf community is small even in a big city. We found out many of our friends knew each other. They were shocked in some cases we knew someone they didn't like. Just because you are part of the community it doesn't mean you are friends.

Deaf and hearing people like my spinach dip but not so much my roasted veggies.

Hearing and deaf Mormons don't drink wine.

The status of your guests hearing does not determine who will end up with a lampshade on their head.

Deaf people tend to take a long time to say good-bye which by the way is one of my own characteristics.

All of our friends regardless of their unique characteristics love my son.

Everyone had a good time. My son was in heaven.

Today or a few days ago.......

Again my son was Chaplin for Halloween. He is a bit of a method actor so the costume had to be head to toe perfect down to the socks. He even studied the walk. When he arrived at school he texted his friends,
" You will not recognize me but I will give you a hint, I am a tramp. The first one to find me wins"
For those of you who don't know Chaplin, his character in silent films was the little tramp. He was playing with English and that killed me.

Halloween night he invited his best friend who is a CODA to come over. His parents were coming for dinner and we do this every year. My son asked if he could invite some friends from school. Well sure I told him, thinking maybe one or two. Well to my surprise the ASL club showed up and my house was full of signing hearing kids. It was so comfortable because the kids and deaf adult could chat with ease. Wow times have changed.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Dr. Larry Flesicher

I had planned another post for tonight but I just learned of Dr. Flesicher's death and felt compelled to flash forward a bit. I was planning to tell this story later so this is a condensed version.......

About 9 years ago......

We felt tired like we had been fighting a loosing battle forever. All we wanted was a Bi/Bi education for our son and the school district thought we were crazy. People who supported us were afraid to come forward for fear of their jobs. We took our fight to the top of the chain and still no results. Out of desperation I emailed Harlan Lane for help. I needed an advocate and wanted him to give me names. It was a shot in the dark. Why would he respond to me? He responded quickly and referred me to Robert Hoffmister. Again I was shocked that he responded so quickly. He said Larry Flesicher may know someone who could help.

Dr. Flesicher responded quickly. He told me he would attend the IFSP meeting I was concerned about and he wanted two interpreters and needed their names. I was over the moon. The school district was nervous and sent a ton of people to the meeting. He was so cool, when he saw one of the interpreters make a mistake he corrected them. The school district people looked like frightened children. For the first time they listened to me. This man took time out of his very busy schedule to help a family with a deaf 3 year old. He treated us with respect and was a huge help. The thing is he didn't know us. He could have easily brushed us off but he didn't.

So I send my deepest regrets to his family. He was a turning point in my son's life. We are grateful for his generous support of our son. In our view he was a great man.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Little Input Please

About 10 years ago.......

I was that friend. I was one of the only friends in my circle that had a child. The result was everyone wanted to take part in his life. At times perhaps our focus was a wee bit extreme.

Before we had children we would host elaborate dinner parties. I would spend the day shopping and preparing food for my friends. Only the freshest most exotic ingredients would do and only the most complicated dishes would be set at my table. The place settings were carefully orchestrated and the beverages served were chosen by course. The conversation would at times make a sailor blush. Often satiated from a good meal we would hit the town. Often myself crammed into 4" heels with ridiculous attention to handbag and excessive accessory choices. I was hardly the candidate for mother of the year.

Along came my son and with him an intense Passion and Love. Our dinner parties continued but the Crystal was slowly replaced with cheap glass and a sipee cup. Instead of venturing out into the Hollywood night we would stay anchored to our home and any friends left would be hostage to ......


This was ritual we started when we did some research about literacy and deaf children but was so much fun we often forgot the purpose. Every night we could manage we would act out stories as a family. One way to internalize the concept of story, beginning, middle and end , was to act out the story after you read it then write a story together based on the concept. On any given night friends would become the wolf or pig in a favorite classic tale. They would shed their designer shoes and prance about like a princess in distress. These home plays laid the foundation for my son's love of narrative.

I look back and wonder why they did this with us. I can't answer that but I do know my son loves to read. He also uses reading to get information when hearing people don't inform him.


Well my son was cast in a dinner theater production. He is much younger than they company usually allows and they are making an exception to the rule because he is so passionate and gets the style. I know it is a privilege that he is in the company.

I asked if there was a night his deaf friends could come watch. The director said maybe every night because he is acting.

Here is my question to deaf actors,

It is a Cuban improv theater form. They have changed it from theater in the round for my son to 3/4. The actors have options for response to lines but only get them the night of performance. The other actors will respond to what is tossed at random. How do we make this accessible to deaf people? There is no way for interprters to rehearse.

Much thanks for help

A very confused mama

A little input please......

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why Are We All So Scared?

About 10 years ago......

One reoccurring theme we encountered going to workshops and panels was an underling fear of the unknown. Parents seemed horrified that their children couldn't function in the world without speech and yet we knew there were many deaf adults who did just that. They didn't ask how the deaf population navigated daily tasks but searched frantically to find ways for their children to fit into their hearing lives.

We really wanted a deaf mentor and the district was baffled by this request. They wanted to help us but were not set up for this service. We found that the simplest request was always resolved with complicated watered down versions. They didn't have anyone on staff qualified for this position and they told us in order to have this service it had to be a district employee. We were told we didn't need this service because we had made deaf friends but I explained that we didn't want to ask those friends the kinds of questions we were curious about. We needed a guide that could answer the most basic questions without us feeling awkward and invasive. The first candidates they offered as deaf were people that didn't depend on ASL or hearing people who promised to voice off with us. The problem there is after a short time we would stop signing. They didn't give us a clear picture of what our son would look like as an adult.

After a bit of frustration we ended up with 2 awesome deaf adult mentors. One was hired on by the school district at our request. He was a college student who would later teach at the local charter school. We also had a young woman who worked as a office clerk at district offices.

Looking back I am struck by how nervous we were. At a first meeting with the student I watch every movement of his hands for fear I would miss something. At one point he gestured towards his nose and I was lost. I stopped him to inquire what that meant. Uh, he was itching his nose. Right, note to self, relax. He told us of his childhood and education. He revealed many frustrations he overcome dealing with hearing people. We used this information to help us define a parenting style.

The next goal was to get out in the world and learn how deaf people negotiate the daily tasks we take for granted. At the time we were curious about the most simple things. My son will laugh at this because he has no idea how clueless we were. Our other mentor went shopping with us to the little produce markets in our neighborhood. These shops were small and run by families often who spoke English as a second language. The owners were a bit grouchy but my son loved to go there. There was a well known restaurant with a bakery that gave free cookies to children and he would run to the counter every time waiting for this treat. This sort of adventure always included us talking and interpreting for him.

We first went a produce store. As we walked down the street we chatted. She was so confident and didn't notice people starring at us. I asked her about that and she said it happens all of the time and she doesn't pay attention. We entered the crowded shop and as she bent over to look at something she bumped into a woman behind her whom she didn't see with her bag. The woman said something rude and on impulse I started to intervene but was able to hold myself back and watch. The mentor had no idea what had happened, didn't hear the comment and just continued on her way. She paid by looking at the readout on the register. Well that was easy. Next we went to order lunch from a deli. Again I had the impulse to interpret. Again I held back and watched. She indicated she was deaf and showed the cashier she wanted to write a note. She wrote her order. Easy. She wanted a straw and made a gesture the cashier understood. Done, again easy. Every place we went she made it so clear there was no issue. Over time we learned about interpreters, ASL etiquette and deaf culture. It wasn't a long time but it set us up with tools which made it so much easier and relaxing to parent our son. The one element of this service that made it work was the mentors were deaf and used ASL to communicate.

Around the age of three we started having him order for himself by pointing. We taught him how to pay in stores.

Today .....

I am always shocked at peoples reactions to my son. When we go out for pizza it is his job to get the box for leftovers. If a hearing person is with us they almost always leap up to help him. I always stop them. They always look shocked when he comes back with a box.

At one parent workshop at the deaf school a mother of a thirteen year old who was very ASL was surprised to hear my son orders for himself at restaurants. She realized she had never let her son do that and felt bad. She also never had any sort of deaf mentor.

At the same workshop I was so sad when I had to interpret for a 10 year old who was asking her dad for some cake.

We still are grateful for our deaf friends and their willingness to help us. So many times I have asked questions and asked for guidance. We are not deaf but with a little help we have found a way to live as a happy deaf/hearing family. With a little help we live without fear of the unknown.