Hailey Meyer Liechty is a parent of 5 kids — and the two youngest are deaf and have cochlear implants. I asked her to share her thoughts on parenting deaf children. Here’s what Hailey says:
Let’s start with the DMV. I went there dreading the ordeal. The photos. The test. The waiting. None of that happened. I didn’t need the test, the lines were reasonable and the woman who took the photo was very nice, cracked a joke or two, smiled and commented on my first photo. She showed it to me and then asked if I wanted to take it again. She loved my scarf. My mom gave it to me. I love all the colors — and it sparkles too!
She took my picture 3 times and let me choose the best. I like the picture. I really like pulling out my ID.
She asked me questions on the Drivers License application. Address correct? Yes. Age? Yes. Donor? Yes. Is it correct that you want to donate $2.00 to the blind? Yes.
At this point I became a bit more friendly, taking her cue, and said, “I wonder why they don’t have a donation spot for the deaf? Why the blind and not the deaf?” I wondered out loud.
Her response was, “Yeah, I don’t know. Especially since it is much, much, much, much, much, much, much worse to be deaf than blind.”
I paused, then said, “Well, I think it is only much worse. You can keep a few of the much-es.”
She went on to explain the social barriers of deafness. She was kind. Finally I said something like, “Two of my children are deaf and it can be a drag, a big repetitive drag, but it is not the worst thing and I don’t think it is worse than being blind. My children can do anything — play, read, use the computer, run, draw, cook. With fantastic modern technology they can listen and with therapy speak very very well, and eventually drive.”
She gave this friendly apology/explanation for what she had said, and for me having 2 deaf children. She then asked a few more DMV questions, collected my money and I went on my way.
This story perhaps is unusual because it is about a kind and generous DMV worker, but it is so typical of my daily experiences.
I meet many friendly people, others who stare, or let their children stare, at my children until I explain to them they my children are deaf and have COCHLEAR IMPLANTS. The cochlear implant helps them hear. Other people, not professional speech therapists, act as though they know more than I do; as in a relative telling me my son has “bunched Rs,” he doesn’t. Many people like to share their opinion about deafness and how beautiful sign language is. Why don’t we sign more? I explain that a child can really only learn to talk in the first 6 years of life, the earlier the better. After that spoken language will always be like speaking a foreign language. My children will probably learn sign language at some point and that is fine with us.
People like to share assumptions about a deaf person’s abilities, comparisons to other disabilities and stories of family members. I hear dire stories of unethical audiologists selling over priced hearing aids and self-interested insurance companies denying coverage to children, and adults, for anything related to deafness. (We personally have dealt with medical insurance issues a lot.)
Whether it is deafness, cochlear implants, how cochlear implants work, why and how my children need them, genetics and our family history, or schools my children attend (Nathan, age 6, is the top of his mainstream class), it can be tiresome. I really don’t mind. I have to explain everything to everyone, all the time.
My favorite, and perhaps the most surprising thing, I need to explain to people is why we want to give our deaf children the gift of spoken language and why, when at home and out and about, I must repeat myself over and over, again and again, with speech and sign. This is not redundant. It is educational, to help my children (hearing or not) perceive the subtle nuances of sound so they can learn to express themselves beautifully and at the same time educate everyone who asks, or looks at them askew.
Thank you for the beautiful, informative write up, Hailey. Tell me Dear Readers, do you have any children in your life who experience deafness or extreme hearing loss? How is your experience similar or different than Hailey’s?
Sources: Antique ear illustration.