Feed Your Curiosity with a DHH Mentor

Written by: Monique Les


Those were the three foremost feelings that stirred in my heart when I attended Leeanne and Dane Seaver’s presentation during the 2023 Hands and Voices Leadership Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The presentation was titled “From LEGOs to Letting Go: How a Deaf Mentor Changed Our Family”, and the one word that caught my attention was LEGOs. I am a Hard of Hearing mother of three young children, so LEGO is a big theme in our house! However, with my Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH) mentor hat on, I stepped into the room thinking that it was going to be a typical family conversation about how they met their Deaf mentor.

What a surprise I was in for!

Leeanne and her son Dane actually BROUGHT in Henri Grau, their Deaf mentor, whom Leeanne had met during the early days of her son’s diagnosis. I was under the impression that it would be a mother-and-son presentation, with a chat about their Deaf mentor. To physically witness Henri’s presence and place within their family made a marked impression on me.

Apparently, Henri did not even seek to be a mentor in the first place! He had simply showed up at Leeanne’s place of work for a job interview in telecommunications and unexpectedly got “roped” (their words, not mine!) into their journey of navigating her son’s deafness. Talk about a chance encounter in the right time and place.

As the conversation progressed, you could see just how much their lives had been transformed by their Deaf mentor. Henri’s natural willingness to immerse himself into the Seaver family was inspiring, and the fact that the family was able to embrace him as another family member – even having him over for Thanksgiving, Christmas and road trips – is extraordinary. Dane had someone to teach and expose him to ASL, a gift in its own right, but the Seavers also had someone in their lives who was successful in navigating his own journey and who could serve as a beacon of hope that everything was going to be ok. 

It was incredibly touching to see that Dane and Henri were kindred spirits, and to see the joy that came from Dane’s mother’s eyes in knowing that he had access to language, community and a sense of purpose. As a mother (even though my children do not have hearing loss), I know what every parent desires for their children – to be happy. I realize that now as an adult when I reflect on the decisions that my parents made for me, with limited resources. When I was young (the 1980s), access to information was different. My parents wanted me to be integrated into our “hearing” family and into mainstream society (their world), navigating oral communication as best as I could. I remember asking them why they never exposed me to ASL. Their response was that ASL was always considered the backup option, in case oral communication was not the right approach. The power of decisions! Nowadays, that decision is more fluid than it was decades ago.

In the case of the Seaver family, when Leeanne and her husband (Tom) learned that they would have to navigate the family’s communication needs, they were willing to explore – even though it was not the life they had originally envisioned. As Leeanne said so beautifully “it was the life we were meant to have”. It’s like that line from Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” As a DHH mentor myself, I remind myself that each family is like a box of chocolates. Every family is different. Every child is different. Every dynamic is different. Every decision is different. It is the differences that make life wonderful…and interesting!

An open mind, and an open heart had led the Seavers to Henri – who made connections with their son through LEGO. As with most children, LEGO is a hidden world waiting to be explored! Dane’s world was opened though the initial connection of play. Play is such an underrated activity, and throughout the presentation I felt myself remembering all the times that my parents played with me. If you have a little one at home, play with them – even if you’re not sure if you’re making an impact. Henri’s consistency in playing LEGO with Dane created visual access to language. In self-reflection, my childhood ‘play’ was making meals in my toy kitchen – often bringing fabulous ‘dishes’ to my parents and extended family. The language of love, laughter and joy can be expressed in a unique way through play. In my humble opinion, it is a solid foundation in which parents, extended family members and other people in your child’s life can connect on a developmental and emotional level. It all adds up, and it all matters.

Upon leaving the conference room, I was left reminiscing all the times my parents sought out DHH adults during my early years. I still remain in contact with many of them, particularly as a sounding board (because… even my own parents sometimes just don’t “get” some things about being DHH!). Make those valuable connections early on. The simple act of connecting with other DHH adults/families is worth it. You have all to gain and nothing to lose – as you’ll be left with the hope that everything is going to be ok.

You’d be surprised how willing DHH adults are to share their journey! Many parents were actually quite shy to approach me during the conference, out of fear or uncertainty – perhaps? I encourage you to seek them out. Ask. Feed your curiosity, even if it’s still ongoing 30-something years later.

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