Nadene

I became Deaf due to meningitis when I was about three years and four months old. Audiologically, I have a moderately severe to profound loss in both ears. With hearing aids I can appreciate certain types of music and certain kinds of human speech. I use my hearing aids quite well, and as a child depended predominantly on both speechreading and listening. I received a lot of listening therapy, and I think that for a while, given my age and the time that I lost my hearing, I did benefit from this.

My parents were told to treat me the same as my other two brothers and to use the oral method. I was never called Deaf. I was always referred to as being “hard of hearing.” Years later, after my mother passed away, I found a letter she had written to an organization that helped her advocate for her rights to stay with me in the hospital (this was 1968) and she referred to me as “deaf.”

I don’t recall school being very difficult up through second grade. Whether due to our move from Baltimore to Philadelphia, or because third grade is just a bit more challenging than second, from third grade and onward I was in a constant struggle to understand, to fit in, and to do well. And after a while, I really just gave up. Several students in my classes were not friendly, and I had neither the maturity nor the means to deal with whatever it was I thought or understood them to be saying. Many of them didn’t think I was Deaf, and I certainly looked odd with my body aids and wires. My speech simply belied the severity, or actually the profoundness of my hearing loss.

Sadly, my parents were also unable to help me. They wanted me to be as normal as possible, and I guess it never occurred to them (nor were they invited) to come to my classes and talk about hearing loss. Even my teachers were skeptical as to my loss. In their eyes I think I was just a child with hearing aids who was taken out for speech and “hearing” therapy.

In fifth grade I had a hearing therapist who introduced me to fingerspelling. I learned a letter a week, and she even taught me some signs. Little did I realize she was building the foundation for a future with sign language. She was injured in a car accident that year and I did not see her again until my freshman year at Penn State, where she was teaching for that year only. Life is filled with “if only’s.” If only she hadn’t been injured that year, if only she had stayed on at my college…would I have begun signing and accepting myself as a Deaf person earlier?

By sixth grade I’d gone from bad to worse. A so-called friend informed me that my voice was different than other kids. I didn’t turn in assignments, and it wasn’t because I couldn’t do the work. My reading skills remained above average, as were my scholastic test scores. I had very few friends.

Seventh grade brought junior high and a disaster year. Students were exceptionally cruel to the point of being physical, teachers, again, were underinformed. I sat through darkened overhead lectures, filmstrips and movies without the aid of scripts or note takers. My itinerant therapist told me about another school with a resource room for Deaf kids, and I asked my parents for a transfer there. At a meeting with the district counselors, where my parents asked for my transfer, my parents were informed that my failing grades were the best they could expect from me. After my transfer I was on honor roll each semester.

After three years in this program, I had a misplaced need to graduate from the same school as my two brothers and returned to my district’s school. I encountered similar problems but dealt with them with a little more maturity. I was able to succeed in English and Latin, but math and chemistry, and even history (due to oral quizzes and tests based on lectures rather than text) remained a problem without the support I’d had at the other school.

Somehow life did come together and I went on to Penn State. I went through four rather misguided years, including a semester at Tel Aviv University in Israel (I’m Jewish), received my Master’s in Information Studies while working in an academic library, was offered a job through the Chicago Public Library (through their need to fill some affirmative action slots). Once in Chicago I began to explore the Deaf community, took classes in sign language, left the library for a job with the Chicago Hearing Society, back to another library, and finally left the outside working world when I began to have children.

Looking back at my life I probably had a lot of accomplishments that were never adequately appreciated simply by the fact that I was a Deaf woman taking on speaking roles. I was Bat Mitzva’d, the same as my peers, and surpassed many of them in leading the service. I took part in a speech writing competition and put myself in countless positions that required speaking. Later, I began to shy away from these roles, because rather than being recognized as an accomplishment I was more or less ignored.

Perhaps my greatest accomplishment has been my four children. In having them, I probably hoped to create my own group of people who would know how to communicate with me, and I them. That’s been true to a point, but with the oldest being nearly 8, we are again involved in schools and activities, and again communication has become a trial.

I married a hearing man, and I would not recommend this to another Deaf person unless the hearing person is truly committed to communication. I think I was torn between the Jewish side of me and the Deaf, and ultimately I chose the Jewish side. This has been a disappointment due to my spouse’s preference that I use only oral skills, and his seemingly inability or unwillingness to learn sign language. However, I do have four beautiful children as a product of this union.

After my first child was born I took sign language classes at Harper College with the intention of entering the Interpreting Program, and hopefully learning Deaf-Blind interpreting. I was accepted into the program just as I was having my third child, and the travel distance (from Aurora to Palantine) and additional course requirements became too much to take on myself. Life got busier in any event, and my fourth child was born two years later.

Benji, now twenty months old, was born with seizures and global delays. While Benji has surpassed the doctors’ predictions, he still has significant delays and requires a lot of therapy. Life has become more isolating; I don’t know many Deaf families whose children have significant developmental delays. Most of the families have Deaf children, and Benji’s hearing is excellent.

I stay in touch with the Deaf community as best I can through the “Mom’s groups,” the book club they started, and any activity I can fit into our packed schedule, which isn’t much! I’m still trying to find my place, and perhaps I’ll be able to follow Benji into the school system as a special education aide when his turn comes. I’m looking for classes on-line in education. Things will turn up.

Life’s thrown me some curves, but it’s been pretty decent overall, especially with my children, and I’m sure I’ll find a new career as my kids grow.

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