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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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What advice do you have for other hearing parents who have deaf children?

Tammy: My advice to parents and families with deaf children is simple. I always say, “Accept your children for what they really are.” If you make the choice not to have the CI, or maybe decide to have it later, they need support. Don’t make your children what you want them to be all the time. Accept their choices. Sometimes it’s not a big thing. Try to be a part of their world sometimes, not always them being in your world. You don’t want your children to be in their forties, fifties, sixties, or even their seventies and you’re still trying to learn sign.

I don’t like to see people so dramatic about making decisions about their deaf children—like to use American Sign Language or not. I don’t like dramatic. It’s not my style. I knew Destinee needed to learn ASL. I know Destinee needs to go to Kendall School at Gallaudet. If not Gallaudet, then maybe another school. Maybe soon she’ll go to another school, but I want her to understand she needs to learn more sign and to never give up ASL.

Destinee: I want to stay at Kendall. Do I have to go to another school? If I grow up then maybe I could go to another school.

Tammy: Okay, that’s fine.

To hearing parents with deaf children, I say—mainly accept your children. Realize that the only thing different about them is they can’t hear. Everything else is the same. It’s really up to the parents to make sure their child feels included in the family. Not neglected, isolated from the family. They need to understand what’s going on. If you have to be an interpreter for your child, fine. Be the advocate also, because if we don’t advocate for our children, no one else will.

Reflection for the Stevenson/Gavins Family

Our interview with Tammy and her two daughters took place at the end of the school and work day. So it was close to suppertime when we arrived. Tammy put dinner in the oven as we set up the video equipment, and then we gathered around the kitchen table. The girls played in the living room, dashing in and out. Sometimes they lingered at the table with us, especially Destinee, who wanted to be part of what was going on.

Throughout the interview we were impressed by Tammy’s positive, can-do approach to parenting, her work as a teacher, the girls’ schooling, the unanticipated decisions she had to make, and life with her extended family and communities.

We wondered how Tammy achieved this positive attitude. Tammy discussed a number of supports that were important to her in the eight years since Destinee’s birth. When we asked about Destinee’s early schooling, Tammy told us about helpful teachers from the Parent-Infant Program who came to her home. They were educators as well as advocates for her family. She learned about the need for a “visual perspective” in her interactions with her child. As a young adult, Tammy was interested in learning sign language. Now she was learning American Sign Language and also about other communication opportunities available to them. These first teachers informed Tammy about programs and services in the area; she also learned about the rights of her child who would likely have specific needs. And perhaps most impressive of all was the fact that the teachers, as Tammy said, “signed and talked with us.” She also came to understand the value of Deaf culture as a resource.

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