The Definition of Success

When thinking about successes, I realized that 'success' was defined not just by the degree of communication we'd established, but by what that communication meant in terms of my daughter's developing personality and capabilities, as well as our relationships within the family. My daughter was seven the morning I walked into her brother's room and found him to not be merely sleeping late, but in the middle of a grand-mal seizure.  In the ensuing panic-filled moments, she recognized the gravity of the situation and quickly followed instructions.  Later, when the dust had settled, I was able to give her a reasonably detailed, age-appropriate explanation as to what had happened.  We'd reached a level of communication that let us handle both the immediate crisis and complex explanations. My daughter has a strong independent streak, evident from an early age.  She made many of her own successes; as parents we just needed to learn to step back and let her go, but be there to pick up the pieces.  When she was four, some neighbors brought over a tiny sidewalk bicycle their kids had long since outgrown.  We were preoccupied with company at the time, but no matter--she went outside and fell down until she learned to ride it.  Later, she learned to ride a unicycle.  Then, she decided to apply the same principle to her own education- 'I'm not learning enough in school, so I'll just teach myself!'  Now she's in college, dealing successfully with a difficult major, and spends weekends racing up and down mountains with the local bicycle club. We had a big problem getting our deaf daughter to watch us sign.  At 15 months, she had evidently decided that her parents had little to add, information-wise, to her world, and was busy figuring out things on her own.  I would have been discouraged with our progress if I had not kept a journal in which I recorded the signs she made back to us and the length of the signed phrases I got her to watch before she turned away.  This tracked both her attending skills and my sign skills--slowly but surely both improved.  I encourage any "new" parent to keep a journal.  When you get discouraged, you can turn back a few pages and see where you were a month, six months, or a year ago. The experience of choosing to adopt a deaf child is obviously different from giving birth to an infant and then discovering that the child is deaf, but the expectations and fears of all parents are probably very similar.  We all dream about our children's futures - the kinds of people they will become - the jobs they'll hold - the contributions they'll make to society.  As our children mature, our expectations are certain to change, but we're always hopeful of great things.  But sometimes the greatest things are small things. These grand ideas seemed impossibly far away for our son, so we decided to concentrate on small steps. The tiny successes became very important to us and were celebrated with joy and shared with other parents in our support group.  Regular discussions with other parents who understood our situation and knew our child were priceless.  As one parent in our group said, 'This is where I don't have to preface my comments with a long, detailed explanation to educate everyone about deafness first.  You understand.' Small steps are best seen in hindsight.  The first time our child managed the public bus fare, made the correct transfer, and arrived at his destination on time was such a regular, average activity for many people that our neighbors couldn't comprehend why we were cheering on the lawn, but you understand... The pride we felt as we watched our teenager standing patiently at a hotel registration desk until someone was willing to read his note and provide him with an "access kit" for our room (a TTY, a caption decoder, and a door signal device) so he could order a pizza from room service, answer the door when it arrived, and settle in with a captioned movie while we were attending a business meeting.  You understand... James came to our family as a foster child when he was nine years old. He was identified as profoundly deaf not long before his placement in our home.  It would be several years before the full extent of his other handicapping conditions were diagnosed and even longer before we devised effective approaches for teaching him.

At ten, James did not recognize his first name in print and could not count to three.  His physical condition was so underdeveloped that he still had all his baby teeth.  He had never been in a restaurant or a barber shop.  So we relocated to Nebraska, enrolled our newly adopted son in a variety of school and social activities, and began the hard work of parenting a deaf child with multiple disabilities.

Now our 27-year-old son has a high school diploma, reads and writes, lives and works (under supervision) apart from his family, and has plans for more independent living in the future.  Is he a scientist, businessman, or educator?  No, he's not.  Is he self-sufficient and totally independent?  No, it's unlikely he'll ever be those things.  But he's healthy, safe, and happily functioning within his capabilities.  Small successes - sometimes those are the sweetest.