Parenting Pauses: Life as a Deaf Parent
Being a deaf parent isn’t just about not being able to hear anything—it’s more. From limited access to information in the medical establishments to daily challenges in dealing with discrimination and communication hurdles, the world of deaf parenting is one fraught with trials, fears and tribulations that no other parenting experience will offer. But at the same time, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Deaf parents CAN conquer those trials, they CAN overcome those fears and they CAN work around those tribulations in order to make deaf parenting work.
Parenting Pauses will give readers, both deaf and hearing, an inside look into the world of one deaf parent, along with some tips and techniques learned along the way.
Adventures in Reading (and Signing)
A common piece of advice given to parents: Read to your children. That’s a message I’ve taken as gospel and read to my children whenever I can. But because the parent in this case is deaf, and the children in this case are hearing, story time takes on a whole new adventure.
As a child, story time was different for Jennifer. It was like the rest of the world was gone. It’s only the two of us, exploring a world or just having fun with words. While I could not hear her repeat the words that I said during these times, it was still a bonding experience.
The common message behind reading to or with our children is that it should be an educational experience. It should be a time where the child can understand and pronounce new and longer words. Some other suggestions recommended by experts are to allow the child to participate in the storytelling by asking them to share their own ideas and to see exactly which words the child can and cannot read.
Listening to my children’s ability to read certain words or pronounce them correctly just isn’t a task that can be done for me. But this doesn’t mean story time is no longer an educational experience for them; it is. It also turns into a fun experience.
Because I can speak, I use sound effects as I read to my children. When I say that a bus is going through town, I’ll make driving noises and pretend I’m steering the wheel. If I say the wind is blowing hard, I’ll make exaggerated wind sounds. Sometimes, Jennifer imitated the sound effects I made. I didn’t know this by sound, of course, but by lipreading her and watching the expression she made.
Lipreading is a big part of what I experience during my children’s story time. Jennifer often grabbed the book to take over the reading and sometimes I didn’t see her lips to tell if she was reading the words correctly, but more often than not, lipreading her has clued me in to what she said. Sometimes, she repeated a sentence or asked a question, and that’s when we stopped reading the book to explore what she understood so far. Asking her if she understood the story can happen at any other time, though; sometimes, if I think she’s confused, we’ll linger over the pages, talking about what I just read. I’ll ask her questions like, “Do you think the bunny is lost?” or I’ll say simpler statements like, “He can’t find his mommy.”
Story time is also a great opportunity to teach my children the sign for something. If a picture in a book has simple objects, I’ll point to them, then show the children the sign for it. For example, if there is a cup, I will point at it, say cup then make the sign as I again say cup. We sign mommy and daddy for the appropriate images, and I’ll even try to squeeze in a signed sentence or two (as long as the sentences are simple, such as, “It started to rain.”).
Most of the time, these signing lessons aren’t always imitated on every try. There were times Jennifer watched me sign something then just turn the page. I still think nothing is lost. I think that on some level, and with enough repetition, they will catch on to the sign for certain objects. After all, once the story ends, we almost always turn back to different pages and I can sign things to them again. I’ll know that extra effort has paid off after they sign those words back to me.
After we finish reading a book, we top the session off with a little discussion about the story. I will try to sign things again, but the main goal here is to see if they understood what we just read and if they can remember things. I will ask them something like, “Do you remember when the bunny was being naughty?” or, “Did the raccoon eat the nuts?” They won’t always sign to me during this time, and they may not sign a single word, but as long as I can lipread them and get a straight answer, I let the lack of signing pass.
I don’t try to make using (and learning) sign language a major part of our story time. Not yet, anyway. Once the children are older, sign language will be a bigger part of our story time, and it may even allow us to create alternative storylines or endings for our fictional friends.
Meanwhile, all that matters is that story time is still a fun and educational time for all of us to strengthen that parent-child bond in a deaf and hearing way.