My Message to Parents: Disability Does Not Equal Disadvantage

by Rosalind Ho

In March 2014, I was interviewed by a team from the BC Early Hearing Program & BC Children’s Hospital to feature in their new video Nice to Meet You. This short interview-based film showcases the full lives led by Deaf and Hard of Hearing young adults. It provides a fantastic resource to families of babies who have been newly diagnosed with hearing loss, helping them imagine the many possibilities ahead for their own children. As well as being available on the BC Early Hearing Program website, a DVD of the project will be part of the Parent Kit that is given to all parents of deaf and hard of hearing babies.

Before I outline the message I wanted to pass on through this initiative, let me give you a little background about myself.

I was born prematurely, in the middle of a prairie snowstorm. When I was 8 months old, I was diagnosed with a severe to profound bilateral hearing loss as well as a delay in my motor skill development. I was fitted with hearing aids shortly after my diagnosis, and my parents enrolled me into a family-centered intervention program right away.

Our family received a lot of support from the interventionists, as well as from the parent group and other resources they provided, such as books and videos. An Infant Development Program (IDP) worker visited our home once a month to help me develop my fine motor skills. I also attended regular physiotherapy sessions at Children’s Hospital for the first few years of my life.

When I was 3 years old, I lost the rest of my hearing. After much thought and discussions with professionals and other parents who had children with cochlear implants, my parents opted for a cochlear implant for me, which I received just before I turned 4. Now my cochlear implants are a part of me that my family doesn’t even notice.

ros sign smile

I was enrolled in the BC School for the Deaf (BCSD) for elementary and high school, which is housed in the same buildings as South Slope Elementary and Burnaby South Secondary. From grade 3 onwards, I was mainstreamed into classes at South Slope and Burnaby South with a sign language interpreter provided by BCSD.

From the time I was a little girl, I have loved to read and to learn more about the world. I was fast-tracked through grades 10 and 11 English, and I studied English Literature 12 in grade 11, receiving 92% on the Provincial Exam. I also took several AP courses in grade 12, including AP English.

I went on to study English Literature at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Always fascinated by the language and complex history of Hong Kong, I spent nearly a year there as a university exchange student from UBC to the University of Hong Kong, and then as a co-op intern at an international law firm.

Since graduating from UBC in 2012, I have been working at the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion (BACI). I first worked at BACI as a co‐op student in the Human Resources department and I am now a full-time Administrative Assistant in the Finance department. I am also considering further studies in accounting.

I am passionate about advocacy for young people with hearing loss, and I am the current President of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association’s Young Adults Network (CHHA YAN). CHHA YAN is a network of young adults with hearing loss across Canada whose mission is to empower young hard of hearing adults to foster active leadership, provide peer support, advocate, and promote awareness of hearing loss in their communities.

While the DVD is for parents of children with hearing loss, I think its message of encouragement is universal for all new parents. When the interviewers asked me what I think are the most important things for parents to focus upon, my message was:

1. The Number One, numero uno, issue is communication. Find a way to communicate with your child as early as possible so that they can develop language. My personal opinion is that it does not matter what communication method your family chooses as long as your child has a solid foundation for language development:

  • Involve your child in daily living and communication. When I was small, my mother would talk/sign to me while having me help her with chores such as laundry, using the microwave, etc. This helped me to learn basic routines and simple conversations.
  • Take your child out into the community. When I was a toddler, my mother took me to a weekly half‐hour story time at the local library. I would sit on her lap to watch and listen to a librarian read aloud short children’s stories or sing nursery rhymes. She also took me to gym classes for young children at the local recreation centre.
  • Read to your child. Despite my enjoyment of the librarian’s visual storytelling with puppets and expansive gestures, my hearing was still very poor. My mother wanted me to learn English while my developing brain was still young enough to readily absorb it, so she arranged to borrow the books or songs to take home so that she could read them aloud/sign to me again every day.

2. Form a strong support network of family, friends, and professionals. Find people who will listen to you when you need to talk, and who will support your own choices for your own child:

  • Get siblings involved. My older brother often joined in the language games that my interventionists used to encourage me to practice my listening and speaking. I also credit much of my interest in reading to him, as he encouraged and bribed me into reading many novels and poems over the years. Nowadays my literary tastes range from Jane Austen to Harry Potter.

3. Keep an open mind! Keep researching! A mind that is open to alternate communication or learning methods will allow for many more possibilities for your child. And don’t stop once you have made a choice, but keep researching to find out more information about it. You never know what hidden gems of information you might discover.

The involvement of parents is essential to the development of a child, and their support and good wishes are deeply felt. As I told the interview team, one of the proudest moments of my life was the day I walked across the stage to receive my UBC diploma with my parents and brother beaming at me from the audience.

RosalindHo

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