One night after spending hours at band, I came to my mom’s house to pick up Leah. When my mom heard me come in the house she said, “Don’t let Leah see you. Stand behind her and call her name.”
You know how there are times in your life that are lines of demarcation? Once you cross it things are never the same. Well this was one of the moments. I stood behind Leah and called her name. Leah showed no response. I asked my mom, how she knew. She told me that they had turned a CD player on, full blast by mistake. Everyone screamed and jumped. Everyone except for Leah.
The hospital where Leah was born had performed hearing screenings on all newborns from January ’96 through the end of November ’96. In December they were busy compiling their test results. Leah was born in December of 1996. The hospital resumed screening newborns in January ’97 and has continued to screen since then.
Was it meant to be? I don’t know. I wonder how over-protective and lame I would have been if they had handed me my newborn baby and said, by the way she’s profoundly deaf. Looking back I can see the blessing it was that we got to know Leah for her first year with the complete expectation that she could do anything, she was limitless. When we did hear her diagnosis “severe to profound hearing impairment” when she was 14 months old, we mourned. We cried. We felt silly. We couldn’t believe it. We thought there was a mistake. We hoped it would go away. We felt all of that and more at once! Finally we looked at Leah and she was still her happy beautiful self. And we recognized that for Leah nothing had changed. Nothing was wrong. It was just the way it had always been. She had always been deaf. She just smiled at us and she looked like she was wondering why we were so sad. So we made a choice. We chose Leah’s perspective. The perspective that nothing was wrong. It was just the way it had always been. Aaron and I knew that we needed to learn something new. We needed to learn how to communicate with our child.
We knew we wanted to have more than one child. We also knew we did not want to have another child until we felt Leah was safely on her path. There are a lot of choices when you find out your child is deaf. It always felt like we had better choose wisely because we were dealing with a window of time that was quickly closing and we could didn’t want to risk losing momentum by starting over with a new method. We read a lot. We asked advice. We had early intervention services. We had speech therapist and audiologists. We asked deaf adults what they would do if they were us. We found out a lot of deaf children grow up resenting their hearing family. We were told by the professionals that we could expect our child to graduate from high school with a 3rd grade reading level. We stood firm that some of those outcomes were simply unacceptable.
Over the years we noticed how many of our friends and family members claimed that they wanted to learn ASL, they wished they had learned it, they even tried to learn it. They didn’t have time to learn it. It was too hard to learn. Sometimes I took it personally – I could see that Leah’s circle of people she could communicate with was shrinking. Her language was exploding and she was leaving most everyone behind. Sometimes Aaron and I felt like we were racing to stay ahead of Leah. I thought if we moved away then it wouldn’t hurt so badly. We wouldn’t have to hear the excuses and the apologies for why people who loved Leah couldn’t communicate with her. We moved. Moving away didn’t work. Now we were surrounded by a new group with the same excuses. Even worse we made some pretty big assumptions about where we were moving. We assumed they would have better resources. We were very wrong. It felt like we were fighting the system every day for things we took for granted back home.
Leah was very bright. Everybody was impressed with how much she could communicate. I just kept watching children who were Leah’s same age and took inventory of the things they knew. I wanted to be sure Leah was on target and I knew that it was up to me and Aaron to get her the information she needed. See, a deaf child does not pick up any incidental information. You know, information they hear even when they aren’t listening. All the things you talk about on the phone to someone else, even in another roomâ€¦ yeah they hear that. Then there is the radio and television and conversations of people they don’t even know when you are out and about. Deaf children miss ALL of it. I would walk through the grocery store with Leah and I would just listen to everything she couldn’t hear. Then the realization that everything she knows, she knows because Aaron or I told her! Now that is scary! LOL Imagine if you grew up ONLY knowing what your mom and dad sat down and expressly told you. We knew that Leah’s freedom and access to information in her world would have to be through literacy. She would have to be able to read.
We noticed how many other daily issues we took on with Leah. Aaron and I were there, the constant interpreters as she interacted with the “hearing world” around her. We saw kids and parents shy away from her when they realized she was different. Leah couldn’t hear. Leah couldn’t talk. Although Leah went out of her way to understand and be understood, the other parties often gave up. I had seen the difference in the interactions with children who knew no signs and children who knew only 4 or 5 signs. Children with a handful of signs tried to communicate with her. They were excited to show her what they knew. There was a bridge to communication! Now I had a mission and I volunteered to teach weekly signing story times at our local pre-schools. Through this, Leah’s circle of friends widened. Her community of communication was growing. These were the seeds that grew to become “Signing Time!”