As promised, this is a copy of the article I wrote for the National Hands & Voices Newspaper. If they accept it, I'll let you know!
(BTW - There's no title as my mind drew a blank on that part)
“We’re sorry, ma’am. Your baby failed her hearing screening.”
Not the words a mother expects to hear when the nurse comes in with your newborn after taking her to the nursery while the doctors are checking in on them all. However, those were the exact words that I heard. I didn’t even know that they tested hearing at birth. So, what next? I got angry, demanded a “recount,” as if this were some awful game someone was playing. The nurse was nice enough to call someone back to re-test my daughter and she failed again. Prior to leaving the hospital my daughter was re-scheduled to have her hearing tested at a later date. I was told that since she was a cesarean birth I shouldn’t worry too much as most often times there is fluid in the ears. So I came back, time after time; each experience the same as the previous, a failed screening.
At that point in time I lived in Maryland, but my daughter was born in Delaware, her doctors were all in Delaware as well. The decision was mine, to aid (hearing aid that is) or not to aid. The audiologist gave me a huge resource guide. I still have it, as it has been incredibly helpful. Every tidbit of information they gave me was helpful. The only thing they couldn’t do was tell me WHAT I should do. The other problem was, even though my daughter was being seen by doctors in Delaware, and I am a native of Delaware, I was still a Maryland resident. This meant that the audiologist and doctors had no information or person they could refer me to for Early Intervention services in my resident state.
Luckily enough, I happen to have had an older, school-aged daughter in our public school system. Many months later she brought home a flyer for a Special Needs Fair that was happening at one of the elementary schools in our district. I almost didn’t go. After all, it was a “special needs” fair and my daughter was NOT “special needs,” rather, she just needed to use a hearing aid. After talking myself out of going, I talked myself back into going, as there was no harm in seeing what was there. Curiosity did kill the cat, right? Boy was I ever glad I went. I met the person who was heading up the Child Find program for our county. He took my information and called me at a later time to schedule an evaluation. What I found was that, not only did my daughter have hearing loss, but she was delayed in other areas as well.
By the time that all of this was occurring my daughter was between nine and ten months of age. She wasn’t talking, not really babbling like a typically developing baby. In fact, she really didn’t babble much at all as babies typically do. She would smile, laugh and giggle, but what she spent a lot of time doing was taking in visually what everyone was doing. I had found a program to start teaching her sign language. Something in her mind just clicked and she took to signing immediately. I was in amazement and really overjoyed that my daughter had found her voice through American Sign Language (ASL).
After the results of her evaluation, I asked, as they were assigning different types of therapists to work with her, that the therapists at least have some knowledge of sign language. I had also made the request for the Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD) to be contacted. They made their own evaluation, and my daughter, and myself included, began receiving services from their Family Education Department.
I was criticized by many, family, strangers and medical professionals alike, for making the choice to teach my daughter American Sign Language. There were many things that I was told, and I even had an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor admonish me for making such a “poor choice” to use ASL. So, basically, I was wrong for giving my daughter two languages with which to be able to express herself. If it had been Spanish or any other verbally spoken language, I would have been praised. Needless to say, the ENT heard that day exactly why I felt he was wrong, that she was my daughter to raise, and we have never returned for another appointment with that doctor. I should mention that when I made the original decision, when she was five months of age, to have my daughter aided, a different ENT in the same office had laughed at me for doing that. So, I was first wrong for having her hearing aided via hearing aid and then wrong again for choosing to also teach her ASL. Apparently I couldn’t win in that office.
Even though I had made the choice to teach and use sign language with my daughter, we were a hearing family, so we continued speaking as well. My daughter’s linguistic knowledge of sign language grew in leaps and bounds. Her speech was slower to develop. Many months later (and I do mean it was some time later) her speech exploded. It was as if someone turned on the light. She continued with services through MSD and I even drove her to school a few times a week at the Columbia Campus, eventually ending in me driving her five days a week. She loved it there. When we left the program at MSD at the age of four, her spoken English and ASL knowledge were almost dead even with each other; the only difference of two words.
Because she only had a unilateral hearing loss, my daughter wasn’t eligible to continue attending school at MSD. I toured the pre-K program at the public school close to my home, but knew that the options available to her wouldn’t be the best fit. I made the decision to move back to Delaware, and had checked with Delaware School for the Deaf (DSD) to see if placement there was appropriate and if she met the eligibility guidelines. We held an interim IEP to get her setup for services prior to the Fall start of the school year. I was really excited to know that my daughter could continue her education in an incredibly language rich environment.
My daughter is now in her second year at DSD, in Kindergarten, and we couldn’t have found a more perfect fit for her when it comes to schooling. Her ASL and spoken English are perfectly matched and balanced. My daughter’s level of articulation is fantastic. At home we sign and speak. My children are all learning. Because children are children, they don’t always sign, but she holds her own very well. My husband and I continue to learn to sign, and she is more than happy to come home and show us new signs. My daughter has adjusted very well to using both speech and sign. She has also become very cognizant of who can speak and who can sign. She has developed a very natural ability to “code switch,” to move from signing with one individual to speaking to another and back again.
She will wear her hearing aid to school, but prefers to go without when we are out in public as the noise is too overwhelming. When she was a bit younger, this was evident as she would break her hearing aid into pieces and throw them upon entering the car. Now that she is older, she prefers to say, “No thank you. I like my quiet world. I love being deaf!” She identifies herself as deaf and no one could ever tell her otherwise. She is very proud of who she is and I know that, no matter what may be on the horizon for her as far as her hearing loss is concerned, she is well prepared to take on the world. With the help of many therapists, doctors, the wonderful staff at both MSD and DSD, the loving support from our family, and the persistence to just keep doing what felt right, I am raising a beautiful daughter who is perfectly bilingual in her first language, ASL, and her second language, spoken English.