Follow Your Child's Lead

Just after our daughter had been diagnosed, I went to my niece's dance recital and spent a lot of time crying, thinking this was something she would never be able to do. As it turned out, being deaf didn't prevent her from trying dance lessons…her personality did.  I made her older brother attend dance lessons with her at several different studios when she was three and four. She could either hear the music or feel the beat enough to do what the other girls (and her brother) were doing. She just hated being there. However, she also tagged along to his soccer practices so often that the coach actually let her play when she was four and all the other kids were six.

I finally realized that some of my dreams for my little girl wouldn't have been in her future even if she hadn't lost her hearing.
Instead, sports have been her passion and salvation. Her teammates have been her best friends. She works so hard that coaches and other players have gladly made accommodations for her. And as she points out, crowd noise doesn't phase her!
We encouraged her to take Latin in high school as her foreign language, since it doesn't require speaking as much as other languages might. So what did she choose to take in college? Japanese. This past summer she traveled alone to Japan to visit her sister. I was so worried about her traveling that far alone, but she wasn't. She loved the country and wants to go back, and thinks learning the language will make the travels more enjoyable. She never has paid much attention to what anyone else thinks she can or cannot do. We named our daughter for a bird with a beautiful song. The discovery that she was deaf might have been doubly devastating had we really expected her to be a "song thrush," but we'd already laughed about the odds of that happening with two tin-ear parents. At first we didn't know what to expect. Reality came crashing down at an out-of-state ABR lab, where we received the bare diagnosis and the instructions to go back home and work with the referring audiologist. We got in the car to start the 6 hour drive home, exhausted from having spent the previous night sleep-depriving our daughter in preparation for the test. We cried about what she'd lost (music, birds singing, frogs croaking, voices,) and tried to list what she'd still have (art, literature, the visual beauty of the outdoors we loved.) We knew very little about deafness at this point, but started gather information....

She might not develop the ability to communicate through speech. Okay, we'll use another way.
Far more devastating was the possibility that she might not learn to read or write at a level we'd always assumed our children would (we both have graduate degrees--of course our children would be brilliant academic successes. And what about the joys of reading for pleasure?) Well, speech didn't happen. We hoped, we got her a hearing aid, used it religiously, voiced when we signed, got her speech therapy in addition to that provided in school; but it became evident that she wouldn't develop speech unless we lived and breathed speech 24 hours a day, and there was just too much else we wanted for her. Reading did happen! Slowly at first--it was, after all, a second language--her reading skills tended to come in surges separated by plateaus, but by the time she graduated from high school she was well above the average reading level of hearing students her age. Vocabulary is still a problem for her, and multiple choice tests with their limited context her least favorite; college means working longer and harder than the hearing students beside her, but she's determined, and cherishes her own success. Her written English will never be mistaken for that of a native speaker, but is clear, well-organized and has a certain flair to it, since she likes to make up her own idioms!

Would she be independent, or would her deafness hold her back? We soon learned we were dealing with an extremely independent personality. She was ready to try things before we were.
At age fifteen she made her first solo airplane journey, telling the man at the ticket counter that she did NOT want help changing planes. At age sixteen she insisted on a solo backpacking expedition. At age eighteen she left for college out-of-state, and would have preferred to just hit the road without Mom. The next summer she got an internship on the opposite coast; this time she did hit the road on her own, driving herself across the country and back. We have many, many gray hairs but are proud of her self-sufficiency.

What about the "Deaf Community?" Would she be a part of it?

Would she feel she must conform to the values of a small group in order to have what all humans need, fellowship? Her independent personality came complete with independent-mindedness. She has deaf friends and hearing friends, enjoys deaf activities and activities in which she is the only deaf participant. There are people and pastimes in both worlds, which she'll have nothing to do with. She seems happiest with a foot on each side of the "line," despite very limited oral skills. Thoreau's drummer is metaphorical: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away. Each child is unique and each has his or her own individual interests and talents. With our love and support, they can and will reach their fullest potential. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Absolutely.