We have a typical 13-year old…

We have a deaf child. Lauren is 13 years old, and was identified as profoundly deaf when she was 6 weeks old. We had not even brought her home from the hospital yet! When the audiologist told us, it was just one more thing to add to the list. She was very ill when she was born, and we were not sure she was going to live, so the “deaf thing” was way on the bottom of our list of things to worry about.

Since we brought home a deaf infant, we’ve never known anything different. But, still, it took me a long time to get used to the idea! I cried…a lot, and walked around the house holding her…a lot. Once I was ready to deal with the deafness, we decided to look for a therapist. Not a speech therapist (my daughter was only 3 months old!) – but someone to help us learn how to communicate with our child, help us teach her sign language, help us teach her to use what hearing she did have, help us…..

Since Lauren was a preemie, she was being followed for developmental delays (she had absolutely none) at the hospital where she was born. They told us to get in touch with our local special ed coop for early intervention services. The special ed coop provided us with physical therapy, but could not help us with the special needs of a deaf baby, so they pointed us to the regional program for deaf/hoh kids where we received early intervention services related to the deafness. It seems sort of a round-about way to go to get services, but, it seems like noone really knew where to send us! The hospital where she was identified surely knew about the deaf/hoh coop, but didn’t tell us! Go figure!!

We fit Lauren with her first set of hearing aids when she was 13 weeks old. I still have her first set of ear molds! They are so tiny!!!! I put them with the outfit she wore home from the hospital. She did ok with the aids, could hear about 1/2 of the speech sounds, but did not develop terribly understandable speech. Her sign language skills blossomed, and when she entered pre-school at 3, she had a very solid language base. Granted, her language was delayed compared to a hearing child, but she was doing great! We continued to see the auditory habilitation (hearing) therapist we had been using since she was baby, and we also added speech therapy to the mix. She loved her therapists. They would go on little field trips to the store, play games, work on puzzles. For the next couple of years, she seemed to grow right before our eyes.

We had never seriously considered a cochlear implant, because she seemed to do so well with her aids. But, there came a time when she maxed out. So, we re-thought the implant. Lauren received her implant just over 5 years ago. I cannot tell you for certain that I am pro or con! I certainly see the difference the implant has made in her speech. Her language was already well-developed through sign language prior to the implant, so that was not an issue for us. (I see all the time, however, articles and books written by people who supposedly have researched their material, that confuse those two – language and speech are not the same.)

We sign and voice to her constantly. This has not changed simply because she has an implant. Our goal was not to all of a sudden have a hearing child. We wanted our deaf child to have more access to the sounds around her. She actually got a lot from her hearing aids, but missed a lot of the speech sounds – how unusual for a deaf child not to hear speech!!! We take her to lots of deaf activities, she knows lots of deaf adults, has deaf, hard of hearing and hearing friends. She is mainstreamed at the site where the TC program resides, as we were not interested in sending her to an oral school – the lack of sign bothers me – nor to an AV program. She knows she is deaf, prefers her deaf/hh friends to her hearing friends, uses an interpreter in school, but can hold a one-on-one conversation in voice only and understand about 85% of what someone is saying to her. Lauren is a typical 13-year old. She loves captioned TV, open-captioned movies, IM’ing her friends and talking to them on the vp, is dying for a puppy, lots new clothes, and of course, high school!

Do I second guess myself about whether or not to have implanted her? Of course I do! Hearing aids have made such great strides in the last several years, that I would be unnatural not to wonder if she would be where she is now if we had simply upgraded her aids. On the other hand, I doubt that she would have been reading at a 2nd grade level when she entered Kindergarten. Although, I am sure that I have just opened another can of worms!

My biggest problem with the implant, is that everyone else seems to know why we made the decision we did, and has no difficulty telling me! I hear it all the time – you implanted your kid because:

  • you didn’t like that she was deaf…
  • you wanted a hearing child…
  • you wanted an oral deaf child…
  • you were ashamed of her…
  • you blah, blah, blah, blah…

NO, NO, NO! We implanted her because we thought we were giving our DEAF daughter more access to the world around her. Lauren is still deaf, she knows she is deaf, and we are all happy and comfortable with that! Whew!!! It’s almost enough (at times) to make me wish we had not implanted her.

I hate feeling like I have to defend or explain ourselves and our decision all the time. To some deaf people, we defend our decision. To most hearing people (family included), we explain our decision. We hear “Oh, she sounds so great. Isn’t it wonderful that she can talk so well? You would never know she was deaf.” That is not a good goal. Many hearing people think that if you can talk well, you are smart, and if you can’t, you aren’t. It’s important that people understand that our deaf and hard of hearing kids – with or without speech – are bright, intelligent individuals who can do anything they want to, with no limitations placed on them solely because of their hearing loss!

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2 Responses

  1. I am so glad to read that someone has the same opinion I do! My son is 3.5 months old, and is profoundly deaf. We plan to implant him…but we never plan to forget that he is deaf. ASL will be his first language. Thank you for your story. It is inspiring to me. 🙂

  2. Nicole,

    It is important that you do what you think is best for your son, and don’t let anyone else tell you what’s right or wrong. In our family, it was right for our child to implant her, but keep her involved with her deaf friends! I would never implant my child and then remove her from all deaf associations. But, that’s me!

    Good luck. I know your son will do great. He already has a good start with a mom who cares about him!!

    Jane

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