Deaf children don’t need to choose between two worlds

Deaf children don’t need to choose between two worlds

May 26, 2015 - 8:00 am

It's good to be fluent in two languages.

Hearing parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, as well as deaf and hard of hearing parents of children who are hearing, are helped by the Saint John Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, a United Way Agency located in Saint John, New Brunsiwick, Canada with a focus on communication, education and employment.

Did you know, says executive director Lynn Leblanc, that 10 per cent of the population has hearing loss?

For children, she says, all it takes is one good fever for hearing loss to develop. Congenital hearing loss in children still goes undetected. Unknown and thus untreated ear infections cause children to lose hearing, too. In the case of teens and youth, the impact of noise exposure from loud music isn't immediately apparent; hearing loss appears decades into their future. Lynn's take-home message to concert goers is to wear earplugs.

The deaf and hard of hearing community is important when it comes to nurturing children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Knowing "someone like me" is important for a child's identity when she/ he may be the only person in their playgroup, class, school, church, who is deaf or hard of hearing.

Deaf children need role models, and the example of a deaf adult — someone who is successful in life — is paramount.

Lynn recounts the joy at Christmas time, for example, when a child first sees a deaf Santa Claus signing. Or the reaction and engagement of a young child seeing a book signed to them versus listening to it being read, when their first language is sign. Young children, she notes, are naturally inclusive and peers and siblings at gatherings play without barriers.

Lynn explains there is a false belief that parents or children have to choose between a hearing world and a deaf world.

A philosophy to be fluent in two languages — spoken and signed with bilingualism — is a great thing. Employability for someone who speaks and signs and is a part of both deaf and hearing communities is limitless. The social linguistic model is to foster the best mode of communication for language, literacy, socialization and culture.

Future literacy is dependent on an early ability to understand and express. Lynn cautions that cochlear implants do not replicate normal hearing. She says it is critical to nurture all of an infant's ability to comprehend and express language, no matter the mode.

Social norms are very different when rearing a child with hearing ability that differs from his or her parents'.

A young hearing child may learn to tap his deaf mother's arms multiple times to get her attention, but such physical contact would be amiss on the playground to engage with a peer. A deaf child may demonstrate intense eye contact and be overtly expressive.

Lynn says, "You can't teach a person with hearing loss to hear any more than you can teach a person who is blind to see."  I thank Lynn for sharing her insights with me.

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