Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Now We Are Getting Somewhere

About 12 years ago.......

So things were going really great at home. He was signing and very happy. We relaxed but wanting more help. Our case worker was trying hard to find what we needed. She told us about a parent panel at House Ear Institute and we jump at the chance to attend. The problem was there was no childcare so we needed a babysitter for the first time. We had made the decision to never leave him in the care of someone who didn't sign. Someone deaf was even better. We asked our for help with that and she came back with one name of a college student who watched a deaf mother's child in the program. We didn't have time to really interview her so we contacted her on our new tty and set up time right before the panel to get to know her. I was terrified to leave him with someone we didn't know. She was very nice and turned out to be a very generous lifeline as well as friend in years to come. Her dialect was East coast so we struggled through our first meeting but felt at least a little more calm about leaving.

The thing about panels is you need to know the motive of the host. This was our first and it was a real train wreck. They had invited one oral deaf girl on her way to college in the fall and a young adult signer who was the custodian at the Institute. I was shocked.

The girls mother told her story. She had worked with her daughter for years using every free moment to improve her speech and hearing. It was a lot of hard work for her and she had to give up her interests but it was worth the outcome! Tears come to her eyes when she explains she sent her to private school where she did very well and was just accepted to some big name college!

The young man told his own story through an interpreter. He was raised with some oral training but mom was too busy working for it to take. He went to a special program in the school district and picked up sign language and got this job at the institute. He had friends.

Then it was time for questions. It felt like all the audience parents were going to run up and hoist the oral girl into the air a run a victory lap.

Then she spoke, here is how it went
Q. What is your hearing lose
A. Profound

Q. What do you do for fun?
A. *something off topic mom steps in to help her understand the question*
I read all the time.

Q. *me asking* Are you involved in any activities at school or in the community?
A. I like my classes

Q. *me again* I mean like sports or clubs
A. No not really

the room settled a bit, my husband and I were signing low below the backs of the seats in front of us. We were both freaked out by that last answer

Q. What are your dreams for the future
A. I pray to god that I will hear better and speak better

She really said this. The last question I remember was about how she got into college and the mother answered it had something to do with her deafness. I don't remember much more because at that point I was so freaked out and wanted to run home and check on my son. We left there really convinced we would never go oral.

In the months to come...

So we went to every panel, workshop and conference we could find. Many were informative none as crazy as the first one. We noticed a pattern, all the the people that were chosen were typically the most successful not representing the majority. My son has also been called to service in this way many times. For example when the newspaper wanted to interview a child from the deaf school we got the call .

The one thing that sticks in my head with bright golden arches is the McDonald's syndrome. It seamed as though almost every new parent suffered from it. This is how it goes, a speaker is finished and opens it up to questions. A parent is called on and says something like this,

"My son/daughter belongs to a hearing world he/she lives in a hearing family. How can he/she survive without speaking? I just wanted her to be able to order a hamburger from McDonald's."

WHOA...someone hit the breaks please, when did McDonald's become the cultural icon for normal? When did it become a benchmark? Why always McDonald's? When did it become a goal to put toxic materials into our bodies? My response later when I was a panel member goes something like this,

"Well I have never met a deaf person who can't order from a restaurant but have met some who can't read Steinbeck. Our concern is that our son is literate giving him the freedom to pursue a higher education. "

By the way my son watched Super Size Me and won't step foot in McDonald's and he loves Steinbeck.

This is just my perspective at the time my child was still very young. I am sure there are many who had a really different experience.


  1. I nearly cried at this blog, for I recognized that oral student in many places during my working years.

    Yes, an oral life can be a very empty one, with a lot of effort going into just existing in a hearing world.

    There will be the few who managed to do well as far as interests and social contacts go, just to say that to cover all bases. But I wonder, how many are they, actually? I haven't met many, and I LIVED that life during college.

    Your son is getting a LOT at his very young age...Super Size Me, indeed! Deciding on the basis of that movie! Wow! Before that movie came out, though, my 8 year old Deaf son was getting hamburgers by himself at McDonald's. It doesn't take much communication, just average self-confidence.

  2. Dianrez, thank you for your comment. It was really hard the first three years to listen to many stories of folks who had so much isolation. I am still worried that my son will be lonely at his new school once the honeymoon is over but life is always changing and for now I am so happy for him. His best friend is a CODA not a deaf kid. They have more in common than the deaf friends he has.

    Hee hee My kiddo could order from a restaurant himself also. What is the concern about food? Ok, he does get a lot of info but that is because he listens to our conversations. Good thing we didn't know a lot of bad words back then...

  3. Hi! I found your blog through my friend Jeanette's blog (asteroid B612). I want to applaud your efforts to raise your family as a bilingual one...your hard work is obviously paying off! I have noticed the biggest difference between kids who were raised oral and raised using ASL is their self-esteem. Oral kids have so little self-esteem and are ashamed to be deaf, usually hiding it or attempt to "blend" in with the hearing world. Ironically, it makes them stand out even more. I have yet to meet a confident oralist who is highly visible in public.

    Your son is obviously proud to be deaf because you accept him for who he is and accept that ASL is his native language. Even better, you have provided him real Deaf role models to give him tools and show him how to navigate this hearing world we live in as a Deaf person instead of as an oral deaf trying to be hearing.

    By the way, I'm Deaf and am raising my kids to be bilingual. ;) I face the same issues as you but with my hearing kids. It appalls me that people expect us to use our voice with our kids so that they don't get fall behind with their speech. First of all, I don't want our hearing kids to copy our deaf voices! =P Secondly, they are hearing and they live in a hearing world so they will pick up whereas a deaf child has to be exposed to the "hidden" Deaf world. Thirdly, if my mother could teach me, her Deaf child, to speak, she can certainly teach her hearing grandchildren to speak! ;)

    I look forward to following this blog! =D


  4. McDonald's syndrome ... I actually remember my elementary school teachers talking about how important it was to be able to order a hamburger from McDonald's! After hours of pointless practice, they herded us into a McDonald's and forced us to order with our unintelligible speech when we could just as easily have written it down or pointed to menu pictures. I think the emotional scarring from that is part of the reason why I refuse to order anything using speech at fast food chains. And I get my food just fine, thank you.

    Anyway I thought you would enjoy this cartoon: