Deaf Again Autoresponder Course Part One

An old Zen saying applies here: Empty your cup so that it may be filled. Deafness emptied my cup. The void in one area of my life allowed me to have enriching experiences in others.

--From the introduction of Deaf Again

During a first grade music class—back in the days when I thought I had perfectly normal hearing—I belted the following tune:

My gal rode the boat outdoors with Al and Louie, yeah!

The teacher actually froze at the piano.

“Um, Mark…” she inquired. “Could you repeat what you just said?”

I was only too happy to oblige.

My gal road the boat outdoors with Al and Louie, yeah!

Our music teacher was a gentle, elderly woman well into her sixties. I think I drove her into retirement. But before she left, she took the time to correct the lyrics I’d butchered to pieces.

“Mark… the actual words are Michael row the boat ashore, hallelujah.

A new Deaf world had opened.

After a series of similar misunderstandings, soon I found myself in my grandfather’s apartment. A phone call from my teacher had him greatly concerned. I was only five years old at the time but I could clearly tell that something was wrong.

“Can you understand what I’m saying?” My grandfather asked.

“Yeah, sure,” I replied.

“Okay, now let’s try it this way.” My grandfather covered his mouth with his hand and spoke again.

“Howbout rhynow? Cnu erwt imsyng? Mrk, cnu unrand me?”

“What? Uh, yes?”

My grandfather’s eyes widened in horror. He realized that what my teachers had said was true. This set off a chain of events where I would wind up visiting many a doctor, audiologist, and speech/language pathologist.

Just like that, my Deaf world had slammed shut.

For many parents of deaf children, such a discovery can be very traumatic. All sense of normalcy flies out the window. They see a handicap, a disability, a medical problem. It hurts. Understandably, this turn of events triggers a grieving process. Shock, denial, anger, depression, the whole works.

During a Psychosocial Aspects of Deafness course in grad school, I learned that this is a common reaction and grieving process that’s often referred to as the diagnostic crisis.

As far as the grieving process goes, what makes it even more complicated is the fact that the parents are not grieving a dead person.

They’re grieving for someone who is very much alive, and in the process can greatly influence this person. (We’ll go into the diagnostic crisis in more depth later on in this autoresponder course.)

A side note for parents: If you’re a parent of a deaf child and this is the first time you’ve read anything in depth about ASL and Deaf culture, it is my sincere hope that you’ll find this autoresponder course to be entertaining and informative.

But in the never-ending search for answers, I kindly request that you remember to do one very important thing: Please include deaf people when you ask any questions about what it means to be deaf.

Can you imagine me going on Oprah and telling the world what it means to be a woman? I could probably give a scientific, biological account of female anatomy, pregnancy, menopause, and whatnot.

But I would never be able to tell you what it means, or what it feels like, to be a woman. Only an actual woman could do that.

Likewise, if you truly want to understand the essence of what it means to be deaf, you have to ask a deaf person. And it would be best to ask several deaf people because we all have our own varying beliefs and experiences. But they are very real beliefs and experiences, and you stand to benefit from that information as much as (if not more than) anything a medical professional might tell you.

Next in the Deaf Again autoresponder course: How we program our minds to accept—or reject—who we are.