I have a child with a profound hearing loss. Eboni was born in 1991, and at that time there was not the infant testing for hearing. Finding our way through that medical maze was exhausting and trying, to say the least. As a parent if you do not know where to go for answers or help it is truly frustrating.
Away for School
Now, 16 years later and after much frustration, our child decided to go to MSSD (Model Secondary School for the Deaf) for high school, a move we, as her parents, fully supported. To have our child so far away at such a crucial time in her development is more than difficult. I wanted her family to provide her primary influences, but the reality was that she also needed a good education in a system that has high expectations. She lives at the school in Washington D.C., and we live in Detroit, Michigan. We are fortunate that her aunt lives in nearby Maryland and also has a relationship with the school as an instructor of Taekwondo in the after-school program. Eboni goes home with her aunt on the short breaks from school.
Last year, we had a chance to spend the Thanksgiving /Christmas holidays with Eboni. After we spent Thanksgiving in Maryland and Christmas in Columbus, Georgia, Eboni was able to spend some time with friends she grew up with here in Detroit. During my time with Eboni, I confirmed my belief in the importance of communication with deaf and heard of hearing children. We made every attempt to include Eboni in the family conversations, during family dinner and other events, but one incident stuck with me during the holiday.
A Teachable Moment
Eboni had just finished talking to a friend in Virginia Beach on her video phone. I came into the room to say good night and saw tears in her eyes. I thought she might be upset that I asked her to hang up the phone because it was late, almost midnight. I asked her what the problem was. She said “I am just thinking.” She said she was thinking about family members that had died, particularly her father’s cousin, whom she was close to. She was in her 70’s and died about 2 years ago. Eboni said she was afraid of getting older because she did not want to die. Usually, I can think of many wise things to say, but I found myself speechless–not because I did not know what to say, but because I realized I needed to say this in her language. I wanted to explain it to her in ASL so she would understand and my ASL skills, I did not think, were that great. I stepped up to the plate and using the signs I knew. I was able to get the information to her, and I knew she truly understood. We hugged and cried together and the rest of the holiday was great. She even told me “Mom, you sign better.” I want to say to parents, guardians, and family members: Please find a way to communicate with your deaf or hard of hearing child. The mode of communication should not be the focal point. The fact that you are communicating is the important thing. .
What I find very frustrating is when one form of communication is pitted against another. What is right for the family is what is right for the child. The family has a stake in supporting whatever form of communication is selected. Our family made the choices we made based on information we were given over the years and on our child’s needs both educationally and socially. Each and every family has the right to make that same decision for their child. In the end, the child makes the choice of how to communicate with the world!
Support for Parents
I am finding that many parents of deaf and hard of hearing children need support, no matter which mode of communication they use within their family. They need to talk to other parents and ask how they got through some of the rough times.