A Hearing Loss and a Deafening Loss

When my 8-year-old son Darren started going deaf, I wrote an amusing article titled Hearing Loss to highlight the fact that he did indeed have a hearing loss even though such a term can be deemed offensive to some people in the culturally Deaf community. (Hearing loss is generally frowned upon because of its negative connotation.)

My reasoning was that after several years of being a hearing kid, Darren now has to go out and reinvent himself. He's definitely losing something as far as his hearing identity goes. Of course he has something new to fall back on -- the Deaf world of his parents -- but still, that's quite an adjustment for an 8-year-old.

And now we have a new character in this amazing story. Enter 5-year-old Brandon, Darren's younger brother. So far, Brandon is hearing. But he's spent the last two years enrolled at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

Waitaminute! The deaf kid goes to a hearing school and the hearing kid goes to a deaf school? Is this family mixed up, or what?

Okay, let me explain.

At PSD there's a remarkable Community Classroom where hearing kids between the ages of 3 and 5 can spend the whole day immersed in the rich, culturally diverse environment that the school offers. Several of the kids have parents who work at the school -- which is why Brandon was there -- but it's also open to hearing kids from the local community (hence the term "Community Classroom"). It's an affordable alternative to traditional daycare and it includes constant exposure to ASL and the Deaf community. A lot of parents are hip to the benefits of sign language and are eager to provide their hearing children with a unique learning experience.

"Unique" doesn't do justice describing the fantastic experience Brandon had at PSD. For two years, he learned many exciting new things with deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing classmates.

They went on field trips, they read books at the library, they had fun in gym class, they created many a beautiful project in art class, and much more. All of this in an ASL-friendly environment. In fact, they even had an ASL specialist come in for storytelling. The kids refined their signing skills and, on several occasions, performed in school plays. Most memorable was a holiday ASL song they performed in front of the whole school just prior to the winter break. Let me tell you, having high school students cheering and high-fiving them was something they'll never forget.

PSD truly put the "community" in "Community Classroom." The kids connected with so many people who genuinely cared about them, people who always took the time to say hello. You could often see a Community Classroom student stopping by someone's office to sign "good morning" before they started the school day.

And that's when it hit me:

Geez, my hearing kid is deafer than my deaf kid.

Brandon had fully immersed himself in a signing community and the results were obvious. He was no longer the shy, withdrawn kid he was on his first day of school. He was outgoing, friendly, and eager to say hello to anyone -- in two languages.

And now for the hard part. As I said before, the Community Classroom only goes up to age 5. Several of this year's class, including Brandon, now have to move on to kindergarten in their home school districts.

You would not believe how hard it was for these kids to say goodbye.

As a DVD featuring highlights from the school year played on at a year-end celebration, the kids laughed and cheered at the wonderful memories they had accumulated. And then the barrage began.

The following morning, one of the girls broke down and started crying on the way to school. Mommy, there are 3 days left! I don't want it to be 3 days left! I want more!

Later that day, one of the boys also started crying. He didn't want to leave, either.

Then at nighttime, out of the blue, it was Brandon's turn. I don't want to leave my school! he bellowed, tears streaming down his cheeks. My wife and I were amazed. Both of our boys had been in various daycare programs before and they always had fun. But never had we seen a reaction like this.

It got so bad that there was actually a bet going on among the Community Classroom parents: Which kid do you think will be the last to snap?

Clearly, something different was going on here. And let me tell you as we bring this article full-circle back to hearing loss:

Brandon, ironically, is deafinitely suffering a deafening loss.

I've joked about this before -- in the aforementioned Hearing Loss article I made a wisecrack about me suffering a deafening loss when I was a kid (I was not allowed to use sign language after I lost my hearing -- what a long way we've come since those days).

But in Brandon's case, this is for real. He's leaving his Deaf school and believe me, he already misses it. Fortunately, he will always be around the Deaf community and you can count on seeing him at Deaf events in the future.

As for Darren and his, um, hearing loss, we are helping him make the transition to Deaf. For now, we've made a suggestion that his school look into contacting deaf performing artists to put on a show or two at his school next fall. We want Darren to understand that although he's "losing" his hearing, he's also gaining a new language and a new culture. Technically he's hard of hearing but the culturally Deaf world is right there for him when he's ready for it. Brandon will vouch for that.

Yes, we're a mixed-up family. But this is going to be an interesting and enjoyable ride.