What Does it Mean for My Child to be Deaf?

Rachel & Leah Coleman 1998

“What does it mean for my child to be deaf?”

I first asked this question in 1998. My 14 month-old had been diagnosed with a “severe to profound hearing loss,” and I previously had very limited interactions with individuals who were deaf.

I saw a Deaf woman come through the airport handing out pencils with a card attached. The card showed the manual alphabet. It asked for a donation if I kept the pencil and card. I wondered if that’swhat it means to be deaf? Will my child be asking strangers for handouts?

Growing up, I went to church with a family who had a deaf child. I called them and asked, “What does it mean for my child to be deaf?” The mother told me, “it is a wonderful, unexpected journey that will introduce you to new people and new experiences. You will learn a new language and learn about a different culture.” I thought, “That doesn’t sound limiting and scary. That sounds bigger than what we would have had.”

An early intervention worker came to our home. I asked her, “What does it mean for my child to be deaf?” She told me, “Statistically it means your child will graduate from high school with a third grade reading level.” I thought, “Not being able to hear has nothing to do with a child’s capacity to learn and their ability to read.” I was correct.

When I asked a Deaf adult the question, they said, “It means your child’s first language will be a visual language, like American Sign Language. Once you have a first language, you can use it to learn a second language, like English.” I was surprised that being deaf meant you could be bilingual. 

Each week, parents struggling to imagine their own deaf baby’s future contact me. They ask a familiar question. 

“What does it mean to be deaf?” is a “crystal ball” question. Parents are asking for a glimpse into their child’s future. They want to know that it will be ok. 

I tell parents that deafness is not inherently disabling, but language deprivation is.

I tell them their deaf child has their whole life to learn how to pronounce words correctly in a multitude of languages, but there is only a limited window of time in which they need to acquire their first language. 

My advice is always; Sign. Sign. Sign.

Don’t discriminate between deaf children and hearing children. All children benefit from early communication.

If a child can access visual communication – give it to them. If a child can access auditory information – give it to them. If a child can access both – give them both. Give all children all of the tools then look to see what works for the child. Let your child be your guide.

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About Rachel Coleman

The opinions and late night musings published on this blog are Rachel de Azevedo Coleman's alone, and are not ever intended to represent the opinions and sentiments of any organization or product that Rachel is, was, or will be associated with. Rachel Coleman is the creator and Emmy-nominated host of Signing Time!, the children's American Sign Language vocabulary building series. She is also the creator and host of Baby Signing Time, Rachel & the TreeSchoolers, and Rachel & Me. Rachel now serves as the Executive Director of the American Society for Deaf Children, a 501c3 nonprofit established in 1967 by parents of deaf children. ASDC is the American Sign Language organization for families who are raising deaf children. www.deafchildren.org Motivated by her child, Leah's deafness, Rachel has spent the last 18 years creating ASL products to help bridge the communication barrier between hearing and signing communities. In 2006 Rachel founded the Signing Time Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to putting communication in the hands of all children of all abilities. In 2014, the Signing Time Foundation launched a 50-Lesson online ASL curriculum called "Sign It: ASL Made Easy" that is available free-of-charge to families with deaf or hard of hearing children ages 36 months and under. Apply at www.mydeafchild.org. For those who do not qualify to receive Sign It ASL for free, they can find it for purchase at very reasonable rates on www.SignItASL.com. Rachel and her husband, Aaron, live in Salt Lake City Utah. They are parents to Leah who was born profoundly deaf, and is now a senior in college at NTID/RIT in Rochester, NY. They are also parents to Lucy who has spina bifida and cerebral palsy, and recently graduated high school. In 2010 the Colemans were joyfully reunited with Rachel's daughter Laura. Rachel is proud to be Laura's birth mom. Laura was placed for adoption as an infant in 1992 when Rachel was 17 years-old.

3 thoughts on “What Does it Mean for My Child to be Deaf?

  1. I really neede this today ? Thank you for being a resource letting so many people borrow your learned wisdom. You are such a blessing.

  2. I really neede this today. Thank you for being a resource letting so many people borrow your learned wisdom. You are such a blessing.

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