Deaf Again Autoresponder Course Part Three

Based on the actions of hearing family members, teachers, and students, I perceived that I was some kind of defective freak. Deafness was bad, I was bad. I needed to be fixed.

(After being fitted with two hearing aids) hearing adults suddenly expected me to understand everything that was said, further intimidating me into believing I had to be like them. I began nodding, saying “yes” to everything people said without having the slightest clue as to what they were talking about. That’s right—I was a walking bobblehead doll.

--From Chapter 1 of Deaf Again




It never ceases to amaze me how, in their efforts to appease the predominantly hearing environment around them, deaf children will often go to great lengths to trick people into thinking they can understand everyone just fine.

Nothing illustrates this point clearer than what happened in the summer of 1999. As a guest speaker at the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf’s Family Learning Vacation, I was asked to run a group session with deaf and hard of hearing children. Most of these kids were between the ages of ten and thirteen. After getting to know them for a few minutes I decided to toss them the following question:

What do you do at family events where you’re the only deaf or hard of hearing person and no one knows sign language?

One of the answers floored me.

There was this one kid, about twelve years old, who said:

“I say hello… and then run!”

I asked him what he meant by “run.” He explained that he would approach his relatives on a one-by-one basis, engage in some superficial conversation, and then make a hasty retreat before it evolved beyond “How are you,” “How’s the family,” and “How’s school.” Unbeknownst to virtually everyone, this kid was manipulating each and every conversation!

He was an expert at lip-reading superficial conversation because he knew what to look for. But he also knew that if anyone changed the subject he would have been like a deer frozen in the headlights. So he took control, mastered the art of how-do-ya-do, and moved on as quickly as possible.

This kid definitely has a future in politics. He may not understand what people are saying, but he sure knows how to work a room.

“Isn’t that exhausting?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he admitted, with several of the other kids nodding affirmatively. “Sometimes I sneak out and go to my room to play Nintendo for a while.”

This was one of the best group discussions I’d ever seen. It was not just the young boy’s confession that struck me hard—it was also the knowing looks on the other kids’ faces. This twelve-year-old kid had validated the experiences and frustrations of everyone else in the room that day.

It seems crazy, but it’s what we do. The introjects of our previous lesson—sit up front, wear your hearing aids, read my lips, et cetera—ingrain it into the deaf or hard of hearing child’s mind that the responsibility for effective communication rests entirely on his or her tiny shoulders. What a load to carry! And we react in strange ways indeed, as our twelve-year-old friend confessed a while ago.

There’s a long-term consequence for this kind of lifestyle. When we strain to understand what people are saying—no matter if we eventually do understand or just smile and nod—there’s a very real physical reaction. It comes back to bite us further down the road.

When we don’t understand what people are saying, that’s stress. When we put in the effort to try harder, that’s more stress. If we succeed, it only opens the door to more conversation and the cycle repeats itself. When we fail, we feel bad and perhaps blame ourselves. After all, we’ve assumed all the responsibility for communicating with the hearing world. (Did I mention this can be stressful?)

Dr. Samuel Trychin—who, incidentally, also happens to be hard of hearing—has documented that the stress of sit up front, wear your hearing aids, read my lips, et cetera, can lead to very real physical symptoms later in life. In his fascinating research (check out his web page at http://trychin.com/ ) Dr. Trychin lists muscle tension, back pain, fatigue, high blood pressure, irritability, anxiety, stomach problems, and other symptoms as a very real consequence to the sit-up-front-read-my-lips lifestyle.

(I can personally vouch that it’s true. Check out my article titled Ooh, My Back )

And so we’ve identified a very real problem that manifests not just in mental strain but physical strain as well. To overcome this, it takes tremendous self-awareness and a paradigm shift.

Next in the Deaf Again autoresponder course: Removing the “impaired” introject and paving the road to success.