Today I learned (randomly, talking with a hearing friend who happened to have a relative with a deaf child, nothing interpreting, nothing through the Deaf grapevine, just hearing gossip) of a little girl who my heart just breaks for.
A little girl who was born with a hearing loss, which her parents refused to accept as part of her.
A little girl who has had around 15 surgeries to “fix” her deafness.
A little girl who does not sign, because her parents like to fit in and be “normal” and so don’t like something that stands out like sign.
A little girl who has behavioral issues “because of” her hearing loss.
Those issues aren’t because of her hearing loss.
Hearing loss does not cause anything other than the inability to hear.
I would bet money those issues are because this little girl has no way to communicate with anyone. She lives in total isolation day in and day out, and has every day of her life.
Many children are born with disabilities. Many parents fight to have those disabilities minimized, through surgeries or therapies or whatever.
But in the Deaf community, deafness is not seen as an impairment. It is seen as a gift, and part of who they are. It is embraced, along with the good and bad that comes with it. Just like how being born a different color than white leads to hardships in our society, but is still embraced because it is a part of that child’s identity and heritage.
Why is being deaf seen by the people in and supportive of the Deaf community as being different than other disabilities?
I think it is largely because hearing loss is all about communication. It is part of every interaction that individual has with anyone around them.
If you have a child with cerebral palsy who cannot walk, you can put them in therapy. You can work on it every day at home. You may encourage them to walk whenever they need to move somewhere. Learning to walk can be a big focus in that child’s life. But even if you take an extremely aggressive approach to it, it will not color every single interaction that child has with you. They can still talk with you while sitting on the floor. They can still snuggle up to have a book read to them. They can still tell you they love you and hear you love them. All without a struggle.
When you have a child with a hearing loss, you may want to react the same way. Aggressive therapies, constant work, asking that child to “listen” and speak orally whenever they want to say or hear something. But that then colors every single interaction that child has with anyone. We are social beings. It is vitally important to us to bond, to connect, to talk, to listen. And because of what deafness is, insisting a child only speak orally and lip-read/listen means they cannot have those relaxed bonding times with you. Because those times are all dependent on the working to be as hearing as possible.
That is why people in the Deaf community say that parents who take an oral approach or deny sign language make their child all about what they can’t do rather than what they can. Because everything that child does that allows them to connect with someone else, from learning math to greeting a stranger to telling their parent they love them, is done through something they will never be able to do as comfortably as a hearing person. They will always be “less” than a hearing person in their ability to hear, no matter how hard they work, and that lessness will be the center of something so vital to them.
Would a parent with a child with CP insist that child stand and walk every time they wanted to say hi? Would they ignore requests by that child until they were up and moving? Would they only read a bedtime story to their child if they were doing physical therapy exercises? Of course not. But by giving a child who is deaf no relaxed, natural, visual way to communicate in those down times, what they are doing is no different.
And if every social interaction was based on your skill at something you are physically limited in your ability to do, how confident would you feel in yourself? How loved would you feel for who you are, if the only time you can hear of that love is when you are fighting a part of who you are?
My heart breaks for this little girl. I hope she can get the help and support she needs to be confident, successful, and learn to love herself as herself. And I hope her family can find a way for them all to grow close in love and communication.
(Disclaimer: I do not have a deaf child and do not mean to judge across the board. I realize that for some children oral education works well and they are glad that is how they were raised. However, from my connection with the Deaf community I have met many, many more deaf adults who felt lost, abandonded, and like failures and outsiders through their childhood due to that choice. I know all parents are just trying to do what is best for their children, and in no way mean to condemn them. It is a hard situation, especially when you are not expecting it. But until I touched the Deaf community I had never considered Deafness this way, and this story brought up those considerations I wanted to share. My views are no one’s but my own.)