By Nicki Horton
Our journey began over 26 years ago when we were blessed with our first child; our beautiful baby boy, JC. At this time, the Early Hearing Screening Program was not in place. Despite multiple visits to the family doctor with concerns about his hearing, JC’s deafness was not diagnosed until he was 11 months old. At this point he was diagnosed with profound bilateral sensorineural deafness (over 90db in each ear) and bilateral common cavity cochleae. Reeling and emotional from this news, we were handed three pamphlets representing our “choices” as to how to help our little guy develop language. The choices were: auditory-oral, signed English or American Sign Language. Needless to say, we walked out of BC Children’s Hospital overwhelmed, stunned, and confused. We weren’t sure which path to take and, at that time, we were unaware of just how important it would be for JC to have access to a full language.
What we learned quite quickly was that our initial choice was not set in stone. We were new to deafness and had a lot to learn through experience, meeting with professionals, taking classes, networking with other parents of deaf children and getting involved in the deaf community. JC began in an auditory-oral program, (from age 11 months – 2 ½ yrs.) He underwent two “unsuccessful” cochlear implant surgeries at the age of 2. He gained little to no hearing from the implant and the electrode array shifted and eventually caused a chronic ear infection. Having major concerns about his limited language, we enrolled him in a total communication program for preschool, where he began to pick up some sign language. From Kindergarten – grade 6, he attended the BC School for the Deaf, where he was immersed in American Sign Language and his language began to take off and he began to blossom. JC was then mainstreamed with an interpreter in the public system for two years and finally attended a private school with an interpreter for his high school years. We tried it all! In retrospect, what guided our decisions for JC was the need for complete access to language/communication and services so that he could make sense of his world, his feelings and develop his ability to build healthy relationships. This meant that we had to keep an open mind, remain flexible and accept when our choices for JC were not benefiting him. It also meant that we, as a family had to make sure that we were providing a healthy language environment at home. We are so grateful for the ASL training we received. JC’s little sister, Haley, got the best training of all just by being JC’s best buddy growing up. She is still the most ASL fluent of all of the hearing members of our family.
JC played AAAA Basketball throughout high school at Vancouver College, won many awards, including the Principal’s Award in grade 12. All of this was great, but in his eyes, his greatest rewards have been the friendships that he has developed over the years by being involved in Deaf Youth Today. These friendships have sustained him throughout his educational career. In fact, he met his two best friends when he was only three years old at a DYT event. They all graduated from Gallaudet University in Washington, DC together and continue to be great friends to this day.
Looking back, I vividly remember the anxiety, fear and sadness I felt when I learned that my little boy couldn’t hear. If only I could travel back in time with knowledge I have now and tell my younger self, “let the anxiety, fear and sadness go, there is great joy that lies ahead for your family … embrace the journey!” JC has introduced us to a community that we never would have known, a new language, and enduring friendships that have enriched our lives deeply. Thank you, JC!