Our family’s story is quite different than most. My husband Dan is Deaf, and a significant part of his family is also Deaf. I am a Registered Sign Language Interpreter (RSLI), and we communicate using American Sign Language (ASL).
**From our Spring 2016 Reaching Out Newsletter: Aurelia is now getting ready to head to Kindergarten in September!**
We had always known that any children we had could be born deaf, and this was something we had speculated about, in the same way we would talk about potential gender, or hair colour. When our son Argyle was born in 2011, he was screened in the hospital and we learned that he was hearing. We used both ASL and spoken English with Argyle right from the start, so he grew up bilingual and is quite comfortable using either language.
When Aurelia arrived in 2014 we honestly hadn’t thought twice about whether she would be deaf or hearing. They didn’t screen her in the hospital, but she had seemed to startle to noise, so we had assumed that she was hearing like her brother. It wasn’t until a few weeks later, when we went to our appointment at the local public health unit, that we discovered she may be deaf. After a couple of more appointments, Aurelia went for an auditory brainstem response test (ABR) and it was confirmed that she was severely-to-profoundly deaf in both ears.
Dan and I understand that for many parents it can be quite distressing to discover that your child was born deaf or hard of hearing, but that was not the case for us. We don’t view deafness as a disability. We recognize Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals as members of a cultural and linguistic minority, one with a strong community and a rich history. Aside from trying to keep those cute pink hearing aids in her ears, our lives didn’t really change that much.
Aurelia and I immediately started attending the weekly Bouncy Babies group, offered in sign supported speech, at BC Family. We also started participating in monthly Early Literacy Foundations (ELF) sessions, offered in ASL, through Deaf Children’s Society of BC (DCS). Both of these groups allowed Aurelia to start interacting with some of her deaf and hard of hearing peers, which Dan and I feel is extremely important for typical social skill development. It also allowed me the chance to connect with other parents taking similar journeys.
At the same time we began weekly home services. We started early intervention sessions, initially with Zara Gauthier, (Speech-Language Pathologist), until she went on maternity leave, and then with Charmaine Francis, (Speech-Language Pathologist), when she returned from her maternity leave. We were also excited to have weekly ASL instruction for Argyle, Aurelia, and my whole side of the family. We also advocated for early ASL group services and were thrilled when BC Family launched a new weekly ASL Baby Group in addition to their other programs.
Having access to ASL right from birth, Aurelia picked the language up quite naturally and signed her first word, “tree”, when she was six months old. By her first birthday, she had a vocabulary of just over 100 words and was also starting to use her voice more regularly. By 14 months she was already using simple sentences in ASL and surprised us all with her first spoken word, which was “Mom”! We don’t know the degree to which Aurelia will use listening and spoken language in her life, that will depend on her, but we do know that she will always have full access through ASL.
Although Dan and I were already fluent, we are extremely lucky to live in a province where ASL instruction is available to all early intervention families free of charge. My parents, my sisters, my brothers-in-law, my two little nieces, Argyle and Aurelia are all now formally learning ASL. Sharon Neufeld, (Sign Language Instructor, ECE) comes weekly to my parents’ home and teaches everyone. The class starts off with a fun 10 to 15 minute mini-lesson geared specifically towards the kids. Then the kids and I go off to play while the others learn that week’s material. After class ends, everyone stays and we all have dinner together. Our lives are busy, but we really look forward to getting together and it has become a wonderful new family tradition for us.
Aurelia is now one and a half and such a cool kid. She is constantly communicating, using both ASL and her voice to express herself. She loves to read books, go swimming, watch ASL rhymes, listen to music, and of course, play with her older brother. With summer just around the corner, we are looking forward to spending more time with family and friends, and attending Hornby Island Family Deaf Camp in July. Maybe we’ll see you there!