|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.