Raising Deaf Children with Dreams, Success, and Confidence.
It’s not easy. In fact, in our society today it can be downright difficult! However, the key, believe it or not, is YOUR belief in him. If you don’t believe your child can succeed, how can you instill that belief in him and help him actually do it? I was faced with this as a young parent. Although I knew that deaf people do succeed in many endeavors, there are obvious blocks that prevent them from doing some things. Or so I thought.
My Journey to Believe
My journey to believe started on my way to become a teacher of the deaf, an advocate for students and their success in life. I saw low expectations from teachers, “It’s ok,” the teacher would say, “He’s deaf. What more can I expect?” I vowed never to say the same and always push my students to their full potential.
Fast forward many years and I’m driving in the car with my 2 young boys. The eldest is 5 and hearing. His brother was only 3. I was shocked to hear this come out of his mouth (talking about his brother): “He’s not smart, he’s deaf.”
Where in the world had he learned this? Had society taught him at such a young age that deaf people are not smart? That you need to be able to speak and hear to be smart?
I began to actively teach the concept of “We Succeed Because We can” to all of my children, hearing and deaf. We talked about deaf adults who succeed and what they do. I gave examples of deaf adults we knew who were obviously “smart.” I let them pursue whatever challenges they wanted, encouraging them all the way.
Yet no matter what we do at home, society will have their say. Here are some things I’ve heard or seen said.
“I’m preparing my students for middle school. They MUST learn to read and write.”
~ while neglecting the content curriculum ~“Write about your dreams. I’m not talking about playing football kinds of dreams.
I’m talking about college or what you want to do when you grow up.”
~ paraphrased from a teacher’s instructions. ~
“You can’t … You’re deaf.” ~ Hearing classmate in a public school ~
From just about everyone:
“You want to be a _________? That’s impossible. You’re deaf!” ~ Fill in the blank, almost every career or job has been found in such a sentence. ~
~ Many times spoken by teachers, parents, and specialists. ~
When my own son encountered these comments at school, I was relieved and amazed at what he answered.
“I’m Deaf and I can do anything. Deaf and Hearing should be equal.”
I was also grateful that his brother had learned a thing or two in the last 6 years. He recently had written a paper on his dream that Deaf and hearing people would be equal and have equal access to education, language, and careers. My deaf son asked permission to take his classmates and show them the paper that was hanging in the hall. His classmates were able to read the essay and many were impressed. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for himself.
Bullying deaf children happens on a daily basis. Whether it’s society, their teacher, their parents, a hearing peer, or a neighbor. It doesn’t matter if it’s a deaf school or a public school. I’ve also come to see that it doesn’t matter so much if you use ASL, hearing aids, CI; talk or not. It’s an issue all deaf children, and even adults, face. For years, deafness has been seen as a disability. For years, deaf children have been told, or have just even felt, they can’t succeed.
I later asked my son, “What helped you respond so confidently to those kids? You knew they were wrong and weren’t scared to tell them so. How did you know that?”
“That poster.” He answered.
He’s talking about a poster my husband made entitled, “We Succeed Because We Can.”
When my deaf son was 5 and was asked this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he answered, like every other 5 year old boy, “A fireman, or a cop.” You can see his fun cop story on our YouTube channel.
I was tempted to tell him, “That’s not possible because you can’t hear.” Luckily, I didn’t, even though this is one of those areas where society has set rules that normally make it hard for deaf people to serve in this capacity. I let him dream. He still loves firemen and policemen, though his ambitions now include construction, science, engineering, forestry service, being a comedian and story teller, and more.
I am privileged to have married a dreamer. He knew the meaning of “We Succeed Because We Can” more than many and is sharing that very message. Through this amazing poster, he introduced me to 48 successful Deaf adults of the 21st century. He taught my children about these people, who have succeeded and thrived in careers often thought impossible for a Deaf Person. It is their stories that gave my son the confidence to stand up for himself.
Seth Terkhorn, Fireman
Seth grew up and became a volunteer fire fighter during high school. He liked helping out, giving back. When he went to college at RIT, he applied to volunteer there. His first application was denied, but he went to the next town over.
“He drives the department’s rescue truck and responds to house fires, helping set up hoses outside the structures. He can lip read well and has even been more of an asset when deaf patients have been involved in car accidents—he asked in sign language whether the victims were hurt.”
And he’s not alone. The article notes there are around 50 deaf firefighters nation wide. (http://www.ntid.rit.edu/news/deaf-firefighters-answer-call-serve)
Keith Nolan, Army ROTC.
“Nolan, 29 and deaf, has been trying for decades to join the U.S. military. While some of his persistence has paid off — he’s passed the first two levels of ROTC, joining the Bravo Company at California State University — he’s currently prohibited from moving on to level three.”
He is continuing the battle, working with legislatures to allow him to serve in the army. Over 80% of army jobs are noncombat, which deaf can qualify for, yet are still kept from working them due to long standing rules. He’s working to change that, and has a good chance at doing so.
“Each morning I get up and put on my uniform, I feel privileged,” Nolan said, “It’s truly an honor to wear that uniform.”
TEDx: Keith Nolan, Deaf ROTC Soldier, Works To Change Military Acceptance Rules, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/02/keith-nolan_n_1316422.html.
Real People, Real Stories, Real Success
I heard one time that . . .
“True success lies in discovering what you love to do, and finding someone to pay you to do it.”
So.. Let them dream.
Then give them the skills the need to achieve,
no matter how long it takes;
no matter what we have to fight for.
Get your own We Succeed Because We Can poster and start teaching your deaf child and students today about Success!