It was daunting last year when I navigated school for the first time with my son. Choosing the right school, applying for his place, seeing him transition from nursery child to school child… it was a huge milestone.
And now, as my daughter begins nursery this September, the education journey begins for my second child. It should be easier second time around, right? Hmm, not quite.
You see having a child with deafness makes big decisions even bigger. There’s so much more to consider. Will they get the right support? Are they in the best environment? Does this school have any understanding/awareness/experience of deafness that will make my child’s life easier?
And it seems that everyone else has an opinion too. Professionals hint what they consider to be best. Well-meaning but naive school mums imply they know what to do “send them to a normal school, so they can fit in” (!!!!)
But at the end of a day, as parent to a deaf child, the only view that ever truly matters is your own. You’re the one that’s bringing the child up after all.
Admittedly, being deaf myself does mean I have a head start compared to most parents of deaf children, who are in fact – hearing. We use BSL and English at home so our children have access to both languages. I’m a hearing aid wearer too so my daughter already sees them as normal ear-wear (even if she prefers my dangly earrings!) And on the whole deafness isn’t new or unfamiliar.
But there’s one thing about parenting a deaf child and making life choices that really saddens me. And it makes me wonder, did my hearing parents feel this way when they were raising me? Do other parents of deaf children feel the same?
Because as much as I accept my daughters deafness and love her as she is, I often feel that others see her deafness before anything else. This influences their opinions and means they don’t truly see her like I do.
There are health professionals involved in her journey, monitoring her speech, her language development, her targets. They’re checking her hearing aid, making sure she can take it out herself and then of course they’re testing how much she can hear.
My daughter is being constantly assessed and scrutinised in a way that my hearing son never was.
My son could go to a toddler playgroup and just play! Nobody would be asking “has he started saying anymore words yet” or saying “awww look how cute his signing is!” or exclaiming “oh my goodness he heard the noise coming from that toy, he heard it!”
When it came to making school choices for my son, we did what we thought was best -no other opinions asked – and got on with it.
For my daughter it’s not that simple. She has to be assessed, meetings have to be held, papers have to be written and so forth. And that’s fine, it’s all part of the process for getting support.
But I wish for once that some of the people involved could just get to know our little girl. Ask us what she likes to learn rather than what sound frequencies she hears. Watch her signing stories instead of insisting she speaks. Just play with her without assessment or judgement.
But as a deaf person I know that it’s a big old hearing world and if I’m honest, there’s still a hell of a lot of audist ideas about.
You see, we want our daughter to go to a school where she can learn and express herself in her preferred language. Why should this be considered a special school or a normal school – why can’t any school meet her needs?
And it’s because of the hardest thing I’ve discovered as a deaf parent to a deaf child… that as much as we want the world to see and accept our child exactly as she is (deafness or otherwise) the majority of society just wants to mould her into someone who acts, hears and speaks like them.
The real battle when parenting a deaf child isn’t so much about getting support systems in place but more to do with allowing them the time and freedom to be care free, happy children in a world that is always telling them they are different.
But fear not. Onwards we go to nursery school, little girl. Just wait till they see what you can do ☺️