What It’s Like to Parent Two Deaf Children

Hailey Meyer Liechty is a parent of 5 kids — and the two youngest are deaf and have cochlear implants. I asked her to share her thoughts on parenting deaf children. Here’s what Hailey says:

Let’s start with the DMV. I went there dreading the ordeal. The photos. The test. The waiting. None of that happened. I didn’t need the test, the lines were reasonable and the woman who took the photo was very nice, cracked a joke or two, smiled and commented on my first photo. She showed it to me and then asked if I wanted to take it again. She loved my scarf. My mom gave it to me. I love all the colors — and it sparkles too!

She took my picture 3 times and let me choose the best. I like the picture. I really like pulling out my ID.

She asked me questions on the Drivers License application. Address correct? Yes. Age? Yes. Donor? Yes. Is it correct that you want to donate $2.00 to the blind? Yes.

At this point I became a bit more friendly, taking her cue, and said, “I wonder why they don’t have a donation spot for the deaf? Why the blind and not the deaf?” I wondered out loud.

Her response was, “Yeah, I don’t know. Especially since it is much, much, much, much, much, much, much worse to be deaf than blind.”

I paused, then said, “Well, I think it is only much worse. You can keep a few of the much-es.”

She went on to explain the social barriers of deafness. She was kind. Finally I said something like, “Two of my children are deaf and it can be a drag, a big repetitive drag, but it is not the worst thing and I don’t think it is worse than being blind. My children can do anything — play, read, use the computer, run, draw, cook. With fantastic modern technology they can listen and with therapy speak very very well, and eventually drive.”

She gave this friendly apology/explanation for what she had said, and for me having 2 deaf children. She then asked a few more DMV questions, collected my money and I went on my way.

This story perhaps is unusual because it is about a kind and generous DMV worker, but it is so typical of my daily experiences.

I meet many friendly people, others who stare, or let their children stare, at my children until I explain to them they my children are deaf and have COCHLEAR IMPLANTS. The cochlear implant helps them hear. Other people, not professional speech therapists, act as though they know more than I do; as in a relative telling me my son has “bunched Rs,” he doesn’t. Many people like to share their opinion about deafness and how beautiful sign language is. Why don’t we sign more? I explain that a child can really only learn to talk in the first 6 years of life, the earlier the better. After that spoken language will always be like speaking a foreign language. My children will probably learn sign language at some point and that is fine with us.

People like to share assumptions about a deaf person’s abilities, comparisons to other disabilities and stories of family members. I hear dire stories of unethical audiologists selling over priced hearing aids and self-interested insurance companies denying coverage to children, and adults, for anything related to deafness. (We personally have dealt with medical insurance issues a lot.)

Whether it is deafness, cochlear implants, how cochlear implants work, why and how my children need them, genetics and our family history, or schools my children attend (Nathan, age 6, is the top of his mainstream class), it can be tiresome. I really don’t mind. I have to explain everything to everyone, all the time.

My favorite, and perhaps the most surprising thing, I need to explain to people is why we want to give our deaf children the gift of spoken language and why, when at home and out and about, I must repeat myself over and over, again and again, with speech and sign. This is not redundant. It is educational, to help my children (hearing or not) perceive the subtle nuances of sound so they can learn to express themselves beautifully and at the same time educate everyone who asks, or looks at them askew.

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Thank you for the beautiful, informative write up, Hailey. Tell me Dear Readers, do you have any children in your life who experience deafness or extreme hearing loss? How is your experience similar or different than Hailey’s?

 


Sources: Antique ear illustration.

24 thoughts on “What It’s Like to Parent Two Deaf Children”

  1. Very well written. I understand having to explain all the time. It can be frustrating but I absolutely believe it’s essential to continue educating others. You’ve a done a great job teaching me about it here! Thanks!

  2. Another Haley here…thanks for sharing. What a special story to share with all of us. You sound like a super mom! P.S. – I like my DMV photo too ;-)

  3. I love this…I really love that you are teaching your children what you are because it’s what YOU think is best and not letting others opinions or advice cripple your ability to mother and teach your children! What a great example. Thank you!

  4. I have a child that a relative believes has a speech impediment…why is she the only one that says anything I wonder?

    How very awesome that you are willing to do what you think is best for your children and educate the public about the reasons. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Fascinating. Do you encounter problems from the deaf community for choosing the implants for them? Hey, even my hearing child needs repetition!

  6. I learned so much from reading this and feel so very grateful that you would share these things. As a literature major, I understand the amazing gift you are trying to give your children of a spoken language. I wish you could see me cheering for you! Hooray!

  7. Your children are lucky to have such a great mom! Thanks for sharing your story. I have a cousin who is blind and deaf, and people ask all the time if we sign to her. She’s blind. Of course we don’t sign to her. So, I see your frustration, and applaud you for taking the opportunity to educate others. It is so important!

  8. Mother knows best! We chose not to learn sign language in our home when we learned our 5 yr old son had a 75% hearing loss and could possibly lose the balance since it was not certain how he lost his hearing in the first place, although it is believed that a high fever was the cause. He was entirely mainstream educated K- 12. He refused to wear his hearing aids from the 3rd grade on and somehow (it is beyond my understanding) how he made it through, but he learned survival skills and used gifts I don’t fully understand. When he graduated from HS he got a little wiser and has worn his aids since. He is a man with what I call a gift of gab. He is very articulate, intelligent and never meets a stranger and is not afraid to converse with anyone. He is now a successfull business man and entrepeneur. Our challenges can bring out the very best in us if we are not coddled. You are a great Mom and you know what is best for your child and what you can live with or without. YOU GO GIRL!

  9. I worked as a sign language interpreter for about 8 years before I had my own kids. Being exposed to so many deaf people with such different experiences growing up formed some strong opinions I held about what I would do if I had a deaf child…and then I had my first child and I wasn’t so sure anymore.

    My only concern with children who have cochlear implants and the focus is on speech is that they never really get a deep grasp of any language…spoken English or sign language. They often get lost between the cracks.

    However, what was once such an easy decision for me changed when I had my own babies. I’d take chances for the ideal that I didn’t think I’d take before…

    And a question: should we really compare a blind child’s to a deaf child’s challenges and see who is coming out worse or better? Seems a bit ridiculous!

    1. I’m also an ASL interpreter and agree with what Candace said. I personally am an advocate for bilingualism, but every family is different and there is no one right answer.

      Design Mom- this is a great post, thanks for doing it. I’d love to see another, maybe from the perspective of a Deaf parent!

  10. Honestly, this post makes me sad. I only have a snippet of this life story, so forgive me if I assume to little, or to much.
    I am not Deaf, I do have a close friend who is Deaf, and I have been slowly learning over the years American Sign Language, and about the Deaf culture. I am still yet a baby when it come to knowing about Deaf culture, the more I learn the less I know.
    Being Deaf is not a disability, yes it has its challenges, but most Deaf people are proud of who they are, and they would not change themselves to ‘fit in’ to hearing people standards.
    I support learning the spoken language if possible, as soon as possible, but Deaf children also need to be exposed to sign langauge, and Deaf culture as soon as possble because that is their right, their heritage.
    While sleeping or anywhere near water their hearing aids, or CI must be removed, and they are deaf. With all the artifical means of supporting hearing, they cannot wear it all the time, and at the end of the day, they are still Deaf.
    Why must they fit into our world, while their friends and family do little to fit into their world.
    This is only a very brief outline to whats out there.
    http://www.deafculturecentre.ca/Public/Default.aspx?I=294

    On a side note, unlike the woman at the DMV office, I would prefer to be Deaf then blind. There is a whole new langauge to learn, and to gain a community and support system in the Deaf culture, and even medical technology out there to help support what little hearing you could have.

  11. Mary McGrath

    I raised a deaf son and I just want Hailey to know it gets easier and the hard, hard work is worth it. My son is 23 years old, a straight A student at a large university and is starting an internship in computer security on Monday for the summer. He was implanted at 4 and it changed our lives completely–one of the best decisions that we ever made. Having a deaf child makes your life an adventure! Best of luck.

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