"Yep," the audiologist confirmed. "Your son does indeed have a hearing loss."
"That makes sense," I said. "I'm Deaf, Melanie's Deaf. I guess our kid's not going to skip the family curse."
Melanie and I smiled. After a brief pause, so did the audiologist. For a moment I wondered if she thought there was something wrong with us. It must have been odd for her to witness a nonchalant response along the lines of "How about that? Another Deaf Drolsbaugh."
The audiology exam was the easy part. The hard part was the first IEP meeting the following school year. Melanie and I walked into that with no idea what to expect.
We got ambushed.
School staff, administrators, and representatives from the school district took turns telling us what to do with our Deaf child.
What's wrong with this picture?
From the initial diagnosis all the way through every single IEP meeting we ever had, not a single Deaf professional was ever consulted.
My wife and I lucked out. We're Deaf. We've been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. We recognized right away that we were not being fully informed. We were able to make our own suggestions on how to improve our son's access to education. Even so, we felt overwhelmed before we finally got what we wanted.
I can't imagine what it feels like for parents who have to learn on the fly when their child is first identified as Deaf. You get bombarded with all of this medical information before you can adequately process what's happening. It's incredibly stressful.
It doesn't have to be.
Take it from the guy who bought the t-shirt. Here's a list of four things parents of Deaf children need to know:
1. There's more to it than what the medical professionals tell you. Most doctors, audiologists, and speech-language pathologists focus entirely on the ears and speech. That's their job. Keep in mind their input is just one part of the overall equation. There are Deaf professionals who can add a whole new dimension by focusing on the whole child in a way no one else can. Find them. Not sure where to look? Start with the American Society for Deaf Children. They'll give you more information on language acquisition, Deaf education, and the value of a healthy Deaf identity. It's like getting Deaf life hacks that give your child a head start to success.
2. There's no either/or. While learning about the latest auditory-based technology, you'll most likely be told that's it. (This is what happened at my son's first IEP meeting.) Parents are often presented with "options" in such a manner that they're led to believe it means "choose one." News flash: You can wear a hearing aid AND use sign language.
3. Language acquisition can't wait. It takes time for a Deaf child to make progress with hearing aids, speech therapy, and cochlear implants--and there's no guarantee of how well they'll work. Why wait? The longer you wait, the more your child's brain has to deal with the harmful effects of language deprivation. Deaf babies--actually, ALL babies--can communicate in sign language long before their vocal cords are fully developed. This offers a huge head start in language acquisition. If you check out renowned neuroscientist Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto's groundbreaking research at the National Science Foundation Center on Visual Language and Visual Learning, you'll be way ahead of the curve.
4. Deaf peers and role models are priceless. When I transferred to Gallaudet University in 1989, it was the first time I attended classes with other Deaf people. It was the first time I had Deaf teachers and other Deaf role models in prominent leadership positions. I was blown away. Being in close proximity with them unlocked all of the hidden potential I never knew I had. I remember thinking, "Hey! Why didn't anyone tell me about this before? Like, say, in first grade?" It means so much when Deaf children are able to interact with Deaf peers and role models. And it doesn't have to be limited to Deaf people who communicate in one particular way. Meeting Deaf people with different backgrounds gives Deaf children a frame of reference that helps them discover who they are. Show the many ways Deaf people can succeed, and you open more doors.
On that last note, that's going to be the theme of this blog: Open more doors. There are so many knowledgeable and talented Deaf people out there who have flown under the radar for too long. We're going to have a lot of fun shining new light on them and the deaf perspective they have to offer.