Some folks have recently asked me about our Deaf world experience. How did we jump in? Well it is a very complicated story but here are a couple of thoughts. I will be writing more about this later.
About 11 years ago......
Learning ASL 11 years ago was a challenge and an adventure. The funny thing looking back is how nervous we were to jump in and communicate in sign with Deaf people. We forced ourselves to get past our fear because our son needed us to. I now see many parents do an awkward dance when the are in this situation. My advice is jump in when they are young so you don't end up years later having people interpret for you for your own child. Give yourself a break if you mess up because really that is how you learn.
I remember trying so hard to follow conversations and sometimes getting so lost. It could maybe be going so well, I am focused and engaged, and then 2 signs I didn't know and I was lost. Hanging on a thread of what was already said scrambling to catch up . I wonder if that is what it feels like for my son sometimes? I would sometimes in the early times get so tired that I didn't want to catch up and only hide.
I would watch , trip, scramble and hide.
My eyes would shift maybe and gloss over. A smile and nod on my part and then....I was caught. Every Deaf person I know can tell when someone doesn't understand or is not "listening".
"Do you understand me?" the person who's word are full of meaning, the person who deserves to be heard, the person who will not ignore the distant look in my eyes asks.
"sorry " I admit.
I learned that I must stop my friends and ask for clarification. I learned I must never pretend I understand to comfort myself. My Deaf friends can sense the minute I get lost. This leads me to one of our first mentors...
I met this really cool college student when we were presenters for an Early education class around when my son was just learning to walk. He was one of several Deaf students who offered to help us after the presentation. I had the district hire him as a mentor. He came to our house the first time and told us his story. It was so awesome to have this person share his life and shed some light on what our son would be experiencing. At one point I was so focused I saw him sign something with the index finger on the side of his nose. Well crap! I need clarification,
"Wait, what is that sign?"
"this- repeat( index finger on side of nose)"
"I was just itching my nose"
I just got an email the other day from my son's first babysitters. We haven't seen her in about eight years since we moved from L.A. She was a really important person for us . We met her by asking the Early Intervention folks for a referral for a Deaf babysitter. We wanted to go see a parent panel but they didn't have child care provided. Of course they didn't have a list of Deaf babysitters because hearing parents never ask for that but after asking around they found someone who babysits for a Deaf family. They basically told us to try her at our own risk and that they didn't know her. Well we did and she became a close friend. She invited us to Deaf social events and made sure our son was surrounded by Deaf culture. At first it was awkward trying to understand her east coast dialect when we were so new to ASL but the work paid off because we were welcomed into this new world with another great guide.
So she is going to visit this area soon and I can't wait to see her!