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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Bilingual Deaf and Hearing Families: Narrative Interviews
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When I was seventeen or eighteen years old and then during college, I wanted to learn sign language, but the classes were always cancelled because not enough people registered. At the age of twenty or twenty two, I tried again to learn to sign but never could. Now I really am trying. I am trying to feel comfortable with signing adults. My receptive skills are getting better and for sure they are better than my expressive skills. Destinee is trying to teach me. Are you tired, Destinee, no?

Destinee: No, I am fine; I’m not tired. I want to stay up.

Tammy: Before we went into any early childhood programs, I already knew that sign language would be an important tool to communicate with her.

Destinee is the first deaf child in our family—on both sides of the family. The family has been really supportive. My brother, her godfather, every time he sees her, he tries to pick up new signs. My ex-husband has several aunts who have taken sign language classes. My godson knows a little sign—not a lot, but a few, like “milk” and “drink.” Does your dad know sign? [Tammy asks Destinee.]

Destinee: He knows a little, yes. He tries to sign with me.

Tammy: She teaches her dad; that’s good. He realizes now that he needs to learn more sign language, especially when the cochlear implant (CI) battery is dead or she needs a break from it. Anytime he needs to communicate with her, she will also lipread when he talks and has eye contact. I’m like, Wow, she understands what he is saying. Sometimes he forgets she doesn’t have the CI on and then communication breaks down until they get back on track.

How did you and Destinee’s dad respond and what were your feelings when you found out Destinee was deaf?

Tammy: When she was born, her dad was scared. He didn’t know what to do. Basically, I tried talking with other parents who went through it. I tried to find out what the next step is, hoping that by the grace of God it’s not that bad. We need to continue to learn sign because later on she may decide not to use her CI. That decision would be fine with me.

For me, in the beginning, when we found out she was deaf, I did feel a little stressed because of the uncertainty. Constantly going to the doctor. One doctor would say one thing, and another would say something else. It was confusing because nothing was for sure. They said maybe she was deaf, but they were not sure. At the same time, they were helpful. Nine months later, after she lost most of her hearing, the teachers from Montgomery County came out and were helpful. As I mentioned, her first teacher signed and talked and that helped both of us a lot.

Parents sometimes talk about being sad about having a child who is deaf, or they feel regret. I can’t say that I ever did. Well, I cried for a few minutes and then, you know, God is just there. It could be so much worse. We’ll wait and see what the next step to success is.

How did you decide to get a cochlear implant for Destinee? Going back to that time, could you describe the overall experience?

Tammy: About the cochlear implant—really, I wanted her to make the decision herself about getting a CI. You know, I thought it made sense to wait until she was old enough to decide. But after doing some research, it seems doing it earlier works better, that there are more benefits. I also wanted her to know that she is deaf, that she has Deaf culture. I didn’t want to take that away from her. That’s why I wanted her at Gallaudet University.

Destinee was, I’d say, eighteen months when she got the CI. She was the first baby to have a CI at Children’s Hospital; she was the youngest person. Yes, she got it early. There are several articles written about that hanging on the clinic’s wall with pictures of her. What did I say wrong? [Addressing Destinee] Oh. She said it was sixteen months, not eighteen months. Okay.

No, the decision to have a CI for Destinee wasn’t an easy one to make. I have met with deaf parents who have deaf children. One man attacked my decision on that. He said, “How could you do that to your child?” I told him, “You have to understand, I’m a hearing parent. I can’t even start to understand my child on the same level that you understand your child. You understand Deaf culture, where deaf people are coming from. I’m an outsider, learning about the culture.” My perspective is that if I want to give my child the advantage of a tool, then I will give that to her.

Still, I’m always wondering if I made the right decision, especially now since I learned she has perception issues. If she has visual problems, that could affect her. She’s in a visual world.

Her dad’s family is very supportive; also, as I said, they took sign language classes. They were very supportive when she had the surgery for the CI. It looked like a mob scene in the waiting room. It was full of family from both sides, it was very nice. There were eight people at the hospital with us. Family support continues to be very important to us.

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