By Lisa Cable
As I sit at my computer writing this article, my 9-year old daughter Lily has just finished an online conversation with a teenage girl, facilitated by their shared Teacher of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing. They have met in person before and they have similar levels of deafness and similar listening equipment. Today my daughter was “interviewing” her older friend about her life, family, hobbies and what it’s like to be deaf. After finishing their call, Lily told me how much she enjoyed the conversation and was looking forward to doing it again soon. It reminded me once again of how important it is for all of us to connect with people who have experiences and life stories that are similar to our own.
Our family has benefited over the last 9 years from a number of relationships with other members of the deaf and hard of hearing communities. Here are just a few examples of how these relationships have enriched our lives and expanded our world views.
Connecting With Deaf and Hard of Hearing Adults
We have had the privilege of meeting many adults, from those just out of high school to those that are grandparents, who are deaf and hard of hearing. For Lily, seeing adults living rich lives and pursuing their dreams has always been inspirational. When she was little it helped her to understand that there is a whole community of people like her, ready to support her. As she gets older, it’s a reminder that her deafness isn’t a limiting factor in what she can achieve. For us as parents, being able to learn about the different life experiences and journeys of these adults has informed our decision making and how we support our daughter as she grows.
One such Deaf friend is both a mother and a grandmother. Over the years she has shared with me stories about her international travels, and humorous anecdotes about raising hearing children and grandchildren. She is someone that I can ask honest (and sometimes stupid) questions of and receive frank and thoughtful answers. She is someone who has been a treasured friend to my daughter and has encouraged her love of learning.
Connecting With Other Parents
We have a wonderful group of friends, some of whom have been in our lives for many decades and are really more like family. However, even with these close friends, there is always an element of having to explain to them about our daughter’s equipment, needs for access and communication and just what it’s like to parent a child who is deaf. When you meet other parents of a deaf/hard of hearing child, that need to explain just disappears. Even though our stories may be very divergent, we have an innate understanding of the years of decision making and advocacy and the ups and the downs along the way.
Over the winter holiday, we had a get-together at our home with some of these friends. It was so special to be able to look around our dining table and see families that may never have crossed paths, sharing food and conversation, talking, signing and playing, brought together by the chance circumstances of our children’s births.
Connecting With Other Children
Finding your place in the world and connecting with others is a key component of growing up. Lily has many hearing friends and family members, but we have also fostered relationships with her deaf/hard of hearing peers over the years. Maintaining and building those friendships is a priority for us as parents because we know how important it is to have people in her life that are “just like her”. When they’re together they’re not talking about their access needs, or their equipment, or their identities as people who are deaf/hard of hearing – they’re just being friends. But subconsciously they recognize that they all navigate the world differently than their hearing peers and this bonds them together in a special way.
Before Kindergarten, when my daughter was part of an Early Intervention program, it was easy for her to spend time with other deaf and hard of hearing children. Once she headed off to school we realized that those relationships would take planning and forethought. Some of her closest friends don’t live in our community and so we find ways to connect them through FaceTime chats and get-together’s during spring break and summer holidays. We try to take advantage of all the wonderful programs for school-aged kids such as Deaf Youth Today camps & programs and CHHA-BC Buddies events & camps so that Lily regularly has opportunities to connect and socialize in fun ways with her deaf and hard of hearing peers.
Not everyone you meet through your child’s journey will turn into a life-long friend. My wish is that you find those special few that do – for with those friendships come genuine joy and belonging.