There's a movement out there encouraging people to share why they sign (use American Sign Language). Here's my contribution to that story, and a little update on our little guy.
Photo of child in retro toy car, watching a girl sign on TV
We didn't cry when we heard about hearing loss in our preschooler (last summer). We rejoiced. We didn't know where it was coming from, but we finally knew how to help him. We could learn another language for him. We could help him understand. We would become bilingual.
Then we hit road blocks. We were told it was only mild loss. That it was unilateral. That we didn't need to sign, because he'd hear enough through his good ear, and once he had an aid, he'd know where to look. This sounded like good news, but didn't match up with our day-to-day experience. We were told that he wasn't deaf-enough for a d/hh (deaf and hard of hearing) preschool. Don't learn sign, said the ENT (ear doctor). Whatever you want to do, shrugged the audiologist.
We heard what they were saying, but then we watched our toddler son. He sat in my arms and pulled our faces close to his when he'd tell us an important story. He'd stare at our lips. He'd misunderstand our words, but he wanted SO MUCH to understand and be understood. And we didn't want to lose any more time.
So, shakily, with embarrassing mistakes and unsteady hands, we started to sign. It wasn't all right, it wasn't all good. The words came out of my hand in faltering, jerking, unnatural movements. Sometimes unnaturally loud, sometimes lacking all emotion. A lot of times we signed was with our voices going, and so it really REALLY wasn't ASL, it was signed English.
But it was something, and he was responding. He was picking up language, he was asking better questions. Once his sisters started using their hands, too, he started to sign back. We began turning off our voices at family gatherings. Even though he could hear, we were going to become bilingual.
Unnecessary? Maybe. If his level of loss stayed the same, he'd probably prefer English and never attend a Deaf school. But I needed to learn to change MY outlook. Change "might become deaf" to "might become Deaf," and suddenly it's not bad news. Deaf (capital D) indicates a culture, a community, a world of other people with a rich history and language. Make Deaf acceptable. Make Deaf FINE.
Just recently, just six months after the first test, he was tested again. The mild loss now looks to be moderate. It's now in both ears. The cause, while still unknown, is suspected to be genetic. And while so much is uncertain, it might continue to get worse.
For the first time I heard an ENT say "learn sign," but then he said "but you don't need to learn ASL. Just learn baby sign, so that he can express himself better."
The ENT didn't know that ship had sailed. Why would we give him a town when we could give him the world? We'd already started our journey, our course was set. If our son was going to come half way, pull our heads toward his and read our lips, we could close the gap. In fact, we could go beyond the gap, and we could make this wonderful.
Our son may be moving from hard of hearing to clinically deaf. Maybe not. But either way, we aren't worried, because through the Deaf Community that has gone before, we have been taught the difference between the poor deaf boy and the proud Deaf child. And we intend to pass that along to our son.
We sign because we love him, because we want him to feel connected to the world around him, no matter what the future holds. This is my #whyisign.
There's an old bit of advice given to doctors. If it has four legs and a mane, and you're not in Africa, it's probably a horse, not a zebra.
In other words, when diagnosing a patient, don't look for the rare diseases first, look for what is most common. And that makes sense.
But what happens when your child IS a zebra?
Today is Rare Disease Day, so in solidarity with other parents of rare disease kids, I offer up this ridiculously cute picture that sums up our world.
Photo of boy reading newspaper
Being the parent of a zebra means
a. lots of lab draws and appointments with specialist (in this photo he waits for yet another blood draw to test kidney levels)
b. (if you're a parent like me) lots and lots of research and reading whether it's
-- reaching out to the fifty other parents nation wide whose kid is like yours
--reading (and trying to comprehend) journal articles and college textbooks to learn the anatomy and medical language necessary to understand the lots of lab draws and appointments with specialists (see "a").
But don't feel sorry for us. The rewards are greater than the costs. I think that is ALSO summed up in the ridiculously cute picture above.
Happy Rare Disease Day. Thank you to all the doctors out there who are studying these rare cases. You're helping us find ways to make life as great as possible for kids like mine.
Did I tell you my son has hearing loss? Oh, right, I haven't been putting a ton of his medical stuff up here over the past year (mostly because lots of it is up in the air and has nothing to do with prematurity).
THIS post (click on link) has nothing to do with hearing loss, either, but it could. I could easily re-write this article to say "Don't be sorry my son is hard of hearing, because I'm not."
So for those of you who have kids with special needs -- be it blindness, deafness, need for AFOs, etc, how do you approach those needs or the people around you who make comments? How do you respond to the "I'm so sorry"s that you hear?
My son got sick. He was so cranky that we went in after just a day or so of illness and found that he had an ear infection. After three days of antibiotics and several renal panels because he was acting just that weird, we went in for another check up at the doctor's office. She was concerned about his oxygen saturation and sent him in for overnight motoring at the hospital. I thought it'd be a quick stay.
That night he was put on oxygen. For two nights and the better part of his second day there he needed oxygen. On the third night he finally saturated normally so we were able to go home.
I knew we'd have to leave the bubble of isolation eventually, and I knew that with a micropreemie that came with risks. The first year of preschool is hard for any kid. My older kids were sick every other week at preschool. By comparison Jonathan's been doing pretty good. He had croup, a cold, and now RSV/an ear infection this school year, but that isn't too bad.
But this reminded me of a few important lessons for you micropreemie parents:
1. RSV is no small thing! If it can kick a three and a half year old former micropreemie hard enough to hospitalize them for four days, then your younger preemie could be hospitalized even longer.
2. Lungs are still developing in infants and toddlers. Keeping their lungs safe from illness and infection now is helping develop lung strength for the future.
3. Isolation IS hard, but there's an end to it. It's worth the investment.
I am a fan of the Teal Pumpkin Project, a way of helping North Americans branch out beyond the typical sugary treats for Halloween and offer small toys (rings, stickers, etc.) instead. It was established as a way to raise awareness about food allergies.
I have a relative with Celiac Disease. My husband rushed his best friend to the ER after accidentally introducing him to a tasty dessert made with tree nuts a few years back. I get how serious food allergies are. So I celebrate the Teal Pumpkin Project for what it is, but I must point something out.
For more information, visit http://www.foodallergy.org/home
THE TEAL PUMPKIN PROJECT IS FOR MORE THAN JUST FOOD ALLERGIES.
My son doesn't eat much by mouth. He's now old enough to care about trick or treating. We could keep him inside (and when I see the sniffling kids at overly crowded Halloween events, I'm tempted) but we instead drag him around to all the houses where he gets suckers and candy bars and gum balls... things he won't be able to eat for several years. The candy goes to his sisters and he gets, well, nothing.
THE TEAL PUMPKIN PROJECT HELPS "TUBIES."
"Tubies" is a nickname for people with feeding tubes. Cute (or ridiculous?) nickname aside, I know I'm not the only parent out there that will be looking at the Teal Pumpkin map to see if there are any homes that will have something besides food for my feeding tube child.
I'm not related to any child with diabetes mellitus, but I'm sure the same goes for these kids.
THE TEAL PUMPKIN PROJECT HELPS CHILDREN WITH DIABETES MELLITUS.
THANK YOU, Teal Pumpkin folks, for making the world a more welcoming place.
Who else benefits from this movement? Leave your comments/thoughts below.
On a board somewhere a mom asked for 23 weeker success stories. For a bit I questioned what constituted "success" since there's no doubt that prematurity will impact my son in small ways for a long time, but then again, if three years ago I could have seen what I see now, I would have cried tears of joy. My son IS a success.
He is still medically complex. We've been chasing down genetic reasons for our son's kidney conditions. We've added a few more symptoms, treated those symptoms, ended up with electrolyte imbalances that have landed us in the ER and hospital (and first ambulance ride) and adjusted medicines again.
We're still working out what's going on, so I'll keep this brief, but it's such a relief (and so odd) that the thing that makes him medically complex is not a result of his severe prematurity.
To go down the list from head to toe: PVL - that "life long disability" we talked about before -- mild, and last head scan showed ventricle size to be high end of normal instead of mildly enlarged. Doesn't seem to be holding him back much at all. We've now graduated from neurology and neurosurgery. They don't need to see us any more. Ever. Retinopathy of prematurity - We've got a kid that's quite nearsighted, and becoming more nearsighted with every growth spurt. But his eyes still correct to 20/20 with glasses, so this isn't holding him back. He's at risk for eye issues down the road, but this just means we need to keep up with his eye appointments. Chronic lung disease - a puff on an inhaler twice a day and occasional administration of albuterol and he's good to go. We see pulminology about once or twice a year tops. Kidneys - this is the biggy. The list of things wrong with these organs is long, but all seems to stem from one genetic condition. Nephrocalcinosis, mild (and quickly disappearing) hydronephrosis, distal tubular acidosis, polyuria / polydypsia, and associated physical delays from a body that hasn't managed electrolyte imbalances well for three years... yep. This is the one we're still trying to figure out how to control. It's impacted eating (as he gets nauseated now from potassium and sodium levels being off -- and when he was younger it impacted his nursing as he was chronically tachypnic) and that impacts speech. There's a chance hearing has been compromised as well. We'll check that out next week. He's failure to thrive still and needs a g-tube to administer some (but not all) of his food.
And that's it. He walks, he runs, he talks, he has a fantastic sense of humor, and his small stature and glasses just gives him more "OOOOOH!!! He is SOOOO adorable! That kid is so cute!" everywhere we go. It's almost an involuntary response on the college campuses we frequent.
Yes, success. Yes, the long road was worth it. There was a light at the end of the tunnel.