Evolution of a Deaf Attitude

After writing Evolution of a Cochlear Implant Attitude, I didn't think a follow-up along the lines of Evolution of a Deaf Attitude would be necessary. After all, this entire website is a reflection of a Deaf attitude.

There's also an E-course that validates the Deaf perspective with anecdotes, testimonials, psychological and physiological research. Besides, that Evolution of a Cochlear Implant Attitude piece had a parallel storyline that clearly demonstrated how I (and my family) have evolved as Deaf people.

No further explanation needed, right?

Wrong.

Among the responses to the cochlear implant article were some very good questions. If you put them all together into one question, it would look like this:

I know you're culturally Deaf, but why don't you and your son just go ahead get a CI anyway and make the best of both worlds?

That's an intriguing question. I can't resist answering it. And here we go:

For me, personally, I simply don't feel the need for a cochlear implant. I don't mean that in an arrogant get that freaking scalpel away from me! sort of way. I wholeheartedly respect those who have a cochlear implant. I just don't want one for myself. Again, I simply don't feel any need for it.

At the risk of going Obi-Wan Kenobi on everyone ("Trust your feelings, Luke...") I'm totally aware of how I feel. It speaks volumes.

It hit me as a flash of insight several years ago when I was diagnosed with a benign heart condition. Anytime a doctor says the words "heart condition," your first inclination is to grab the doc and say Well, dammit, do something about it! That's exactly how I reacted.

(For all the sordid medical details, check out my article titled Proof of a Deaf Identity.)

It was after leaving the doctor's office when I realized I had asked him to fix me. (I actually tapped my chest and said "Can you fix this?") I couldn't ignore the irony. After all, its been 41 years... and not once have I ever pointed at my ears and said, "Doc, can you fix this?" Not even once. It's just who I am.

I have, however, pointed at my hands and asked Melanie, my ASL instructor wife: "Can you fix this?"

It recently happened again at the 2007 ASLTA (American Sign Language Teachers Association) convention. I had the great pleasure of meeting Ella Mae Lentz and let me tell you, her signing is beautiful beyond words. Breathtaking, awe-inspiring, goosebump-inducing, flat-out awesome.

I WANNA SIGN LIKE THAT!

You'll never find me wishing I could sing like some famous rock star. You will, however, find me complaining that years of forced oralism robbed me of a native-like ASL fluency that I can, and still do, strive for.

You'll find me asking Melanie (who took a mind-boggling course on ASL linguistics) numerous questions about the nuances of ASL. You'll find me intently watching Deaf performers while they're onstage, taking mental notes all the while. I'm always catching something that helps me improve my own Deaf Again presentation with ASL expressions that drive points home in a far more powerful manner than mere words ever could.

As for my son Darren, I already said that the door is open for him to choose whoever he wants to be. He's choosing Deaf. Of course I do not want to impose my Deaf ideals onto him the same way hearing ideals once were imposed on me; he has a say in the matter. In fact, if he ever comes up to me and says, "Dad, I hate my life. I want a CI," then rest assured we will give it some serious consideration.

Oh, great. I can just see a long line of hardcore audists excitedly grabbing Darren and saying "Repeat after me: I... hate... my... life."

All right, back to the point: the question I'm answering here is still Why not get the CI anyway and make the best of both worlds?

For my son, there are several answers to that question.

The first, plain and simple, is: he doesn't want one.

The second answer is that he's holding his own academically. He's at grade-appropriate level all across the board. I'm not saying it's been easy, but he's accomplished a lot. And the funny thing is, he's always had two great teachers at his side: the one at school, and the one also known as mom.

Yes, before Melanie became a certified ASL instructor, she taught in the school system for 6 years. She's an awesome teacher. She has this ability to teach concepts in ASL in such a way that everything clicks and suddenly makes sense.

She's been doing this with Darren for years -- including all of those years when he was a hearing child.

Melanie continues to enrich Darren, Brandon, and Lacey (the latter two ages 6 and 2, respectively) with ASL-based tutoring regardless of whether they are deaf or hearing. You'll see Darren suddenly grasp the concept of fractions and division, improve his reading comprehension, and so on. Brandon sometimes gets confused with his homework and it only takes Melanie a minute before he says "Oh!" and gets back to working independently. Lacey's signing the alphabet, counting numbers, and talking incessantly in ASL.

As for me, I'm the (what else) spelling and writing coach for the kids. I suck at math but can help in that area if needed. However, if there's ever a new topic or a particular assignment that the kids simply do not understand, that's when we scream for Melanie. She'll explain in ASL and then, like clockwork: Click! The lightbulb is on. This is just another reason I highly recommend ASL for all babies, deaf and hearing alike. I never get tired of seeing that lightbulb go on.

Finally, there's one other reason I'm in no rush to get my son a cochlear implant. The "important" reasons are the usual he already has language, he has a strong Deaf family support system, and we respect his preference not to get one. But there's something else.

The kid is one hell of a baseball player.

I know, I know. I've read the information. It's like a tampon commercial: You can go swimming, you can go horseback riding, you can... It's been documented that kids with the cochlear implant can still be physically active, participate in sports, and so on.

But Darren plays baseball like this. He hustles, dives, crashes into fences, gets his uniform dirty, and loves every minute of it. He's made all-star teams. As an 8-year-old, he played in a Fall league with 10-year-olds and held his own. He's a rabid Phillies fan. Although he absolutely loves Ryan Howard, he says Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino are his favorite players because "speed and defense are more important than home runs." Such is his level of understanding and passion for the game.

Now let me tell you: I know the risks are small. But if I put this kid under the knife for a cochlear implant and something went wrong... and it interfered with his ability to play baseball... I would never forgive myself.

You heard me right. I actually value the ability to play baseball over the ability to hear.

This is not to trivialize the cochlear implant. This is just to show that it is indeed possible to live a happy, healthy, well-adjusted life without the ability to hear. And this is what I mean by Evolution of a Deaf Attitude. It's okay to be Deaf.

Don't think for a second that it's as easy as that. It's always difficult for a parent, deaf or hearing, to make choices. That was the main point of my last article. I would hope that either way, people can appreciate each child and each family for who they are... and for the choices they've made.




All right. That's enough of that. It's time for your feedback and comments. In Evolution of a Cochlear Implant Attitude I opened the door for people to share their stories and opinions about the cochlear implant. There were several powerful responses. Now it's time to return to the Deaf Side of the Force. (Can I make it any more obvious that I'm a Star Wars freak?).

Below you'll find the usual form for submitting articles and comments. I regret that my schedule doesn't allow me to personally respond to everyone, but this system is fully automated and your stories are very welcome. What I'm looking for here is stories from people who cherish their Deaf identity. Why do you love being Deaf? Add your two cents here!




What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page...

Do you hear what I hear? 
Another fantastic article as always, Mark. I too, have no desire for a cochlear implant. That is a personal decision by me, even having grown up hard …

Perhaps Darren... 
Would like to meet Pono Tokioka, the All Star Pony baseball player who successfully sued the National Pony League for discrimination, made the All Star …

Candy 
Very easy to understand! Baseball is as American as apple pie. It's as simple as that. :)

Surgery is not all its cracked up to be Not rated yet
I like what I am now, profoundly Deaf, love my Deaf community friends and associates who respect Deaf people so much they wanted to be included in this …



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