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My Deaf Son Fought Speech, ASL Let Him Bloom

Deaf News: Hearing mother shares blog about his Deaf son: My Deaf Son Fought Speech. Sign Language Let Him Bloom.


NEW YORK CITY -- The hearing mother of a Deaf child has written a blog for The New York Times, "My Deaf Son Fought Speech. Sign Language Let Him Bloom." The writer, Elizabeth Engelman, works at the Family Center on Deafness in Largo, Florida and writes the blog OnDeafness.

I watched my toddler wade into the Gulf and launch a fistful of pebbles in flight. They glistened, tiny sparks of light, before I realized he was up to his chin in cold water. And I realized that if I called his name, if I screamed it, the word would sink like stone.

When Micah turned 2 we had learned that he was profoundly Deaf. In the audiologist’s office, an auditory brain response concluded he couldn’t hear a helicopter. “You’re taking this well,” the doctor had said. But later, as I watched Micah step deeper into the Gulf water, I wanted to rage. I was so angry, I could have torn the beach apart.

We celebrated his third birthday, and the audiologist turned his cochlear implants on for the first time.

I said, “Hi Micah, can you hear mommy?” His hazel eyes widened and he screamed in terror, his body trembling. Shock.

In American Sign Language, the sign for cochlear implant is similar to the sign for vampire. Vampire is signed with two fingers like teeth to the throat. Cochlear implant is signed with two fingers like teeth behind the ears. The audiologist told me not to sign at all. She said sign language was a crutch that would hinder his speech. When he heard my voice for the first time, his cry was guttural, a stab wound. He was bitten by sound.

The audiologist adjusted the pitch and tuned the levels to make a simulation of sound. She called this process mapping, but there were no guideposts to show the way. How do you chart loneliness? How do you trace a landscape of silence and sound between mother and son?

At home, I wrapped my legs around my toddler and pinned him to the carpet in what looked like a wrestling hold as I tried to keep the processors for his implants on his head. He was crying, and I was crying, and I wondered if my actions could be considered abuse.

He refused to wear the $18,000 sound processors, and his defiance was feral: head butts to my face, kicks, bites. The back of his head smacked against my jaw, and for a moment everything went black. The implant surgery alone had cost $50,000. Auditory verbal therapy was out of pocket, the doctors were out of network. What choice did I have but to force him?... Read More at The New York Times.
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