Oct
24

Growing Up in Mainstream Public School: Things I Wish I Knew Back Then

This week we have the privilege of reading advice for those growing up deaf/hard of hearing from the very talented guest blogger, Sara Miller, M.S. Ed. Enjoy! 


It was the late 1980’s when I was diagnosed with severe-profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and received my first pair of hearing aids. I was almost three and I’m told that I loved my hearing aids so much that I never wanted to take them off! 

Young Sara with hearing aids on.
It was during the 1990s and early 2000’s when I attended public elementary/middle/high schools in small rural towns in Northwest Ohio. I was the only deaf student in my grade to be mainstreamed full time. During these years, there were a lot of trials and triumphs. 


Looking back, there are a few things I wish I had known to help guide myself through the process of being the only deaf kid in my mainstream class. If I could, I would go back in time and share a few things with my younger self:


Number 1: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are many other deaf and hard of hearing kids out there who are also born into hearing families. In fact, 90% of deaf and hard of hearing kids are born to hearing families. 75% of those kids attend public school, just like you do. While you may be the only kid to be mainstreamed full time in your school, there are many others just like you out there in the world who are going through the same experiences you are. You will meet them later on in life and establish wonderful relationships. 


Number 2: DO NOT READ INTO HEARING PEOPLE’S FACIAL EXPRESSIONS TOO MUCH. Understand that we deaf people tend to naturally rely on visual cues much more than our hearing peers. If a person doesn’t smile, frowns, or has a neutral look on their face, it does not mean they don’t like you or are mad at you. They simply could just be having a rough day caused by something that has absolutely nothing to do with you. Acknowledge and understand this fact in order to save yourself from unnecessary hurt feelings over misreading someone’s emotions. 


Number 3: PEOPLE ARE NOT STARING AT YOU WHEN YOU SIGN BECAUSE YOU’RE WEIRD OR DIFFERENT, THEY STARE BECAUSE THEY ARE FASCINATED WITH SIGN LANGUAGE. I know... This is so hard to fully believe or understand. When you know you are different, you feel as if everyone is always staring at you. Staring at your Phonic Ear box strapped to your chest. Staring at the long cords from that box that lead up to your ears. Staring at your hearing aids. Staring at your hands when you choose to communicate using sign language. That’s when the staring seems to be the worst. But what you don’t know is that those people stare because they wish they knew how to sign too. Reach out to those individuals and ask if they’d like to learn. Teach them the joy of signing.


Number 4: ADVOCATE FOR ACCESS. Hold your teachers accountable for making content accessible. Request captions for all videos and movies. No exceptions. Utilize note-takers in all subject areas. Let your teachers know not to talk towards the chalkboard and to face you when instructing. Ask your peers to repeat themselves when you didn’t quite catch everything they said in class discussions. And yes, even consider having an interpreter for your core content classes. You deserve the right to have access to ALL that is going on around you. Things you don’t even know you’re missing can be filled by having an interpreter present. Learning these advocacy skills early on will benefit you later in life. 


Number 5: YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE AND GET MARRIED. In your high school years, you will often cry yourself to sleep wondering if you’ll ever find love and get married. You’ll question how someone would ever want a wife who cannot hear. Why would they choose to love someone who is deaf when they could have someone who can hear perfectly like all of your peers. Those nights of self-doubt and the tears you cry will be for nothing. You will meet your soulmate in the spring of your senior year of high school and get married that very summer just before entering college. In fact, you’ll be the first in your class to marry and he will even surprise you by signing a portion of his vows to you at your wedding. Your husband is the kindest and most loving soul who will accept and adore every part of you, especially your deafness.


Number 6: ENCOURAGE YOUR FAMILY TO LEARN SIGN LANGUAGE EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN SPEAK. You are the only deaf individual in your entire family (Extended family included). Your parents will bombard you with language and read to you on a daily basis. You’ll fall in love with reading. They’ll have high expectations for you to soak up any and all language learning opportunities around you and you will exceed those expectations. You will acquire and utilize spoken language with relative ease. Therefore, English will be your first language. In your first few years of school, you’ll learn Signed Exact English, but the only person who you’ll teach sign language to at home is your older sister. (She will later become an educational interpreter.) 


However, you really need to teach your parents (and family and friends) to sign as well. They are not against it. If they knew how much it would help you in social situations, they’d learn in a heartbeat. (Looking back, they wished they had). Since you speak so well, it’s easy to fool yourself and everyone else around you into thinking that everything is being understood. But deep down, you know you are not understanding everything around you. That sickening pit in your stomach that you get when you’re about to enter a challenging environment: basketball games, dark restaurants, the mall, birthday parties, movie theater, etc., that’s a direct result of the anxiety you subconsciously have knowing how hard you’re going to have to work just to keep up with a small amount of what is going on. This is where sign language can benefit you. It can bring to life what you would normally miss. It can give you complete access to your surroundings. It can reduce your anxiety and allow you to enjoy your surroundings.  So, please teach those closest to you how to sign. You’ll thank yourself in the future.


7: EMBRACE YOUR DEAFNESS. You will go through a phase in your middle/high school years where you will reject anything and everything to do with deafness. You’ll stop signing and refuse to carry your FM equipment with you to class. You’ll hide your Phonic Ear box and cords under your clothes to try to blend in with your peers as much as possible. You’ll hate being different. You’ll spend a LOT of energy and emotion simply trying to become “hearing” like everyone else is in your class. 


STOP! 


Embrace who you are. Love yourself for who you are. Stop trying so hard to become something that you were never meant to be: “hearing.” Embracing your deafness will save you a lot of heartaches and emotional energy. Know that there are strength and beauty in being Deaf. That there is an entire community of individuals in this world who are just like you. Who knows exactly what it’s like to be deaf. Who will welcome you with open arms? Sadly, you live in a small rural town with no Deaf community or Deaf adult role models. You won’t even meet a Deaf adult until you attend college and are already a deaf adult yourself. However, as soon as you are able, seek out those who are like you. They will fill your heart in a way that the hearing community cannot. In a way that even your closest friends and family cannot. Only when you make these connections will you feel complete and fully able to truly embrace every part of who you are.


Sara Miller, M.S.Ed

she/her

🤟🏻Deaf adult bringing awareness to deafness & Deaf culture

👩🏻‍🏫Teacher of the D/HH


Look for more from Sara on her social media accounts: @adventuresindeafed and @languagepriority

Sara Miller signing I Love You in American Sign Language.
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Sandy Stabenfeldt
Thank you, Sara, for sharing this with our readers. I hope it finds its way to students who would really benefit from your great ... Read More
Thursday, 24 October 2019 13:19
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Nov
28

This Blog Post is Full of Curse Words

This Blog Post is Full Of Curse Words Icon for various forms of AAC with the large black font reading
About once a month I have to answer a really important question:

“Why is that word on his talker?”

“That word,” is our euphemism for any number of words: body parts (slang and clinical), fart sounds, curse words, words that are culturally irrelevant, childish, or inappropriate for a child [of his age/place where he is/supposed cognitive level]. And someone, somewhere, decided to program it on this child’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device as if encouraging the child to use inappropriate language.

I get it. When I imagined the magical moment of helping a student find her voice with the fancy new Sound Generating Device, I wasn’t expecting her first two-word phrase on her device to be “poop butt” repeated over and over again for the next three days, either.

I get it, I really do! We’re professionals trying to create engaging and enriching environments for our learners and the literacy activity has been derailed because we taught him how to make plurals on his talker and now he loves pluralizing the word “as.”

We admit we’re impressed, but we can’t let that slide.

In moments of “enriched language” that flusters me I take a deep breath and remember:

I am not the language police.

A larger-than-anticipated part of my job has been talking about cuss words. And promoting cuss words. And explaining the functional importance of having access to cuss words. And listening to and programming cuss words into communication devices. And explaining why adults can't delete cuss words and "adult vocabulary" from a kid's voice. And listing all culturally relevant cuss words. And finding good visuals for cuss words.

If my professors could see me now.

So what happens if she talks out of turn, pressing the buttons on her communication app? The same thing that happens to all the other students talking out, of course.

What happens when she won’t stop saying “poop butt”? The same thing you would do for any other child who says it. We don’t duct tape kids mouths, and we don’t take talkers away.

What happens when she uses swear words in class? The same thing that you do for any other student who cusses in class. We can’t forcibly remove words from a speaking child’s vocabulary. We teach, we consider the variables, and we provide natural consequences. We don’t delete words from the communication device.

It is work worth doing, with clear expectations, communication between school and family (and sometimes with the office door closed and the volume down really low as you check to make sure “#$!@” is pronounced correctly). The communication device is a voice, not a school textbook or a representation of just the words you hope or anticipate they’ll use today. It’s their access to their human right to communicate, and sometimes communication is colorful, shocking, or uncomfortable.

Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know in the comments below, with any language you like.*

*natural consequences apply

The icon AAC in my title image is from ARASAAC, a no-cost Creative Commons license resource for symbols and icons to represent all words (even “those words”).
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Recent Comments
Jessica Conrad
Thank you Alyssa! I agree it can be so hard to change minds. We need to have patience, compassion, humor, and allies in all corner... Read More
Thursday, 29 November 2018 21:47
Jessica Conrad
haha, I think we could compile a small autobiography/dictionary at this point!
Monday, 03 December 2018 11:26
Jessica Conrad
I'm glad! I hope he enjoys the expanded and functional vocabulary!
Monday, 03 December 2018 11:27
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