Monday, February 22, 2010

He has a hearing sister

My son was born into a hearing family. Until I met him I had never met a deaf person before. I do remember one girl in elementary school who wore hearing aides and always walked home alone. I didn't know her and I don't recall ever talking to her. So we had to start from scratch when we found out he was deaf. I wanted him to socialize and feel included at home. I also wanted another child.

I don't blog here about my daughter yet but I plan to write a series of posts about her to better explain our family. She is seven and trilingual. She has a full life on her own and with her family. She adores her brother but they can really argue at times.

When he was four I became pregnant. We were all so excited. In a way the timing was perfect. We spent the first three years of his life learning how to parent a deaf child and fighting for services. It was time consuming and the work paid off because but age four it was as if we set the foundation for a typical family life. The only extra attention his deafness required was the IEP meetings and some tweaks with the school. I had settled into being the volunteer mom.

His sister was born right after he turned 5. Like any parent I wanted him to feel involved. He was at the birth and read me books while I was in labor. When she popped out he cut the cord with my husband and said, "She is so sparkly!" Her sign name is modeled after that thought.

It was tricky at times having a Deaf and hearing child. My goal was to be the perfect parent giving both children equal quality time and to insure my son was not left out. I wanted my daughter likewise to not feel everything was focused on my son. I didn't want her to resent him for being deaf. I have tried my best but often I have laughed at my errors.

I was lucky that I could volunteer so much at the deaf school. This allowed my daughter the opportunity to grow up deep in Deaf culture. It was her normal to switch from speaking to sign. She was with me at the school from about the age of one week when she attended her first performance. It was a play Haddy was in and I didn't want to let him down so I packed her up and sat in the back row of the theater painfully adjusting myself in the seat hoping she would be patient. She was and continued to be patient as time went on.

I had a feeling that if she didn't spend a lot of time at the school she wouldn't have a connection to her brother's world. I didn't want to have to complete separate worlds in my own home I wanted a hybrid. I wanted a place that was equal and natural for all. I volunteered at the deaf school at events and twice a week after school teaching art, cooking and theater to the elementary kids. My husband and myself helped with the soccer team. To all of these activities she came along and participated. She was treated like the other kids in the group. When she was really little the staff that supported my classes would help her while I taught. The Deaf children would also watch over her. She was known all over campus. As she got older she sat next to the others and participated.

I asked her what it is like having a Deaf brother, " Well the best part is you are kinda famous at school because you know sign language. You have a brother to play with and teach you things. He is deaf so you get to learn another language. The best part is having a brother."

So she has always had connection to the Deaf world, it is her normal.

It is interesting to look at her language development. She was exposed to ASL as a native language from birth. I will write more about this later. She signs like coda. When she is playing with her brother she makes choppy quiet vocal sounds. When she signs with others she makes no sound. She now knows to turn off her English in the company of Deaf people even if a signing hearing person is present but at an early age she would only sign with deaf people. It makes perfect sense that she would do this but it was frustrating. The really cool thing is she learned ASL naturally. Now she is trilingual adding Spanish to the mix.

Well it is her bedtime. Off to read one story in English, one in Spanish and one from big brother in ASL.


  1. When I first found out about my daughters hearing loss, I wasn't sure if it was progressive or not. We started to learn ASL. I took my daughter to the Deaf Kids and Teens club. My 2 year old who has a mild hearing loss was doing great with ASL. I loved the thought of being included in that world. But lately my kids have stopped signing and are forgetting a lot of it. Kind of makes me sad. I still take them to the events at the Deaf kids club. I'm thinking about going to college to learn ASL for myself now.

  2. Just some random thoughts on reflection: Your son is now well on his way and your daughter is still young enough to make her the priority from now on. She can be developed just as intensively as you developed your son's potential, and hers is a way different world of options. If she comes back and engages in her brother's world, that will be at her will, not by default.

    Perhaps this is what prevents jealousy and division between hearing and deaf siblings in adult life. I don't know if this applies, but am drawing from personal experience.

    In attempting to compensate a deaf child, a hearing child may lose status. The idea isn't to give each child identical toys, but to individualize development and by needs.