By Jesse Lewis
You are the difference.
Your deaf child can thrive in life with your guidance or be overcome with countless obstacles that are not necessary. Life throws down enough obstacles in our path; we do not need more added.
Your deaf child can succeed. You can make that happen.
Your deaf child can be prepared for what life brings. You can make that happen.
Your deaf child can transcend barriers. You can make that happen.
Your deaf child can fail, if communication at home is weak. You can prevent this.
Your deaf child can be overwhelmed and unprepared for life without your lessons. You can change this.
Your deaf child can feel helpless against mounting barriers. You can show your child how to move past them.
Which do you choose? Which path do you take? Do you choose the path that will require constant effort, knowing that your hard work will give your child a chance for success? Or, do you make excuses, procrastinate, or delegate the responsibility to schools that will never be as invested in your child’s future as you are?
There are no easy paths, but there are worthwhile ones.
You might think: “If I can just fix my child’s hearing, it’ll be okay.”
The use of hearing aids or cochlear implants will not guarantee communication; to understand speech requires more than sound. Hearing words spoken will not guarantee that they are understood, especially if your child has never heard a single word. If you choose hearing aids or surgery for your deaf child, please understand that you are still essential for your son’s or daughter’s success. Your work is still ahead of you.
You might think: “If I use sign language, my child won’t speak.”
Sign language does not prevent speech. Sign language enables communication that is effective. If you want your child to speak as well, then using sign language in conjunction with speech will make a difference.
You might think: “It is too hard to learn sign language.”
Which is harder: For you to gradually learn a language that is accessible to you, or for your child to struggle to understand speech that is never as accessible to a deaf child?
You might think: “The teachers will teach my child everything that is important.”
The teachers are overworked, overburdened, dividing their attention among many students. Hearing children are learning from their peers, their parents, their aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors, and everyone else they meet. Hearing children are being taught by their community, through everyday interactions that use real communication. A deaf child learns from individuals who are easily understandable, who make the effort to teach in a visual language that is completely understood by the child. You are your child’s best chance. You are the ones who can teach your child the most.
If you reach out to deaf-centered organizations and schools, you can begin to develop ties to the deaf community so that your child can benefit from the interaction of deaf peers and deaf adults who can communicate without barriers.
This letter is a plea, from me to you. I write on behalf of every deaf child who lacks the ability to express these words to you. It is not because your child will never be able to express this communication need, just that your child does not yet have the ability, unless you support it. It is not too late. You are the difference. You only need to choose a path that leads to you learning to communicate with each of your children completely. Completely. Don’t be satisfied with communication that is lacking in quality and depth.
We want you to understand that, for us, we hear the world through our eyes. We rely on visual cues, visual methods of communication. We thrive on it. When you understand and act on this, communication unfolds, and our messages to each other are shared and received.
Someday, you will be sitting with your children in the middle of dinner. You might be eating silently. Or, if you are having a conversation, it may be awkward and limited, full of misunderstandings. You might be sitting there feeling frustrated and disconnected. Or, you might have a deep and meaningful discussion with your child about your lives. You might laugh, cry, share feelings, and connect. Which future is likely to unravel depends on the choices you make right now.
Please believe that a brighter future is within reach, like a ripe and waiting fruit on a tree branch above you, because I am confident that it is. You need only to reach.
I want that future for you both. I want your child to feel that his or her thoughts and feelings are understood by you. I want your child to understand your thoughts and feelings, too. You are both deserving of this. Lack of communication should never keep a parent and child apart. Regardless of what methods of communication you pursue for your child, sign language is a powerful tool to choose.
You are the difference who can make this future become a reality. Can you see this future with your child fully included?
Author’s Note: The lack of identifying sign language in this plea as American Sign Language is intentional, because this letter is directed toward parents worldwide. It is highly recommended that the sign language chosen should reflect the sign language that is embraced by whichever country the deaf child lives in. In America, that is American Sign Language.