My own understanding of the importance of connecting parents and children to adults who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing (D/HH) developed over time while raising my stepson. His eyes would widen, light up and a smile would grow on his face every single time he would see another Deaf person-- no matter where we were or what we were doing. I can remember so many of those times very specifically because it was such an immediate and profound connection that he would demonstrate with complete strangers.
I recall the time were at a busy crosswalk and a family coming towards us was signing, we all noticed, stopped and waited for them to come across halting our original plan to get to the other side, so we could interact with them. The Deaf adults immediately signed to us, sizing up who is who, "Are you Deaf?” “No, hearing,” I clumsily signed, but my stepson signed for himself proudly noting, “I’m Deaf.” Then came welcoming smiles, language flowing, genuinely pulling him in. Even a two-minute interaction left him feeling connected, and me, his hearing parent, recognizing a connection only available beyond our own family’s deep love and adoration.
There was the time we planned a trip to Disneyland, and by incredible chance, it happened to be Deaf Awareness weekend there. Each show was made accessible by interpreters (without having to schedule them in advance), and there were hundreds of people who were D/HH throughout the park enjoying the community and connection—it was indeed the most magical place on earth that weekend. He was joyfully overwhelmed by the number of D/HH people, having never seen so many in one place.
The realities of being the only one of a handful of D/HH students in his school and our community was the more common experience, but these instances reinforced a lesson I carry with me today in my work at CEID. The experience and perspective of navigating a hearing world as a D/HH individual can only be fully understood by someone who has lived it. The rich perspective and depth of understanding of that shared experience, and importantly the connection that it creates, is one aspect of why it is so critical for CEID and other learning communities to have D/HH staff and volunteers. Each experience of my stepson’s instant connection to strangers led us to seek out opportunities to connect with the Deaf Community, to meet and learn about people who were D/HH, to find more peers and expand his exposure to others. From summer camps, to educational placement choices we sought, meeting D/HH people and learning their diverse, as well as shared, experiences taught us how to approach situations. We learned about resources, opportunities, cultural nuances and deepened our understanding of how to support our child.
It has not just been my family’s experience that bears this out. Research examining the positive impacts for parents of D/HH children who had contacts with D/HH adults showed significant effect on three stress scales: reduced isolation, increased interactional responsiveness and improved sense of competence.
At CEID we are proud to be one of the sites in California offering Deaf Coaching services for families with young children who are D/HH. While we have had Deaf Mentor projects in the past, we are proud to debut a newly developed program in collaboration with Deaf Service Agencies from across the state, which is part of a greater drive to incorporate D/HH adults into early intervention systems. A Deaf Coach is a Deaf adult who is a language role model and has the skills to work with families with D/HH children to promote language development and greater understanding of D/HH perspective with families. The Deaf Coach works with IFSP/IEP team members to support families and target strategies to integrate language into their homes and in the community.
At CEID, we work with the belief that, together, we create the world we live in. May it continue grow increasingly inclusive of all people.