Mi Familia. Even those of us who don't speak Spanish can get the word "family" from this word. It is familiar, which is another derivative of the word. Family brings up so many different ideas to different people. This weekend, I had to go to my hometown to move my mom to assisted living. There are so many emotions tied in, but coming home and being with family was important. We have a very blended family including Italians, Lithuanians, Russians, Christians and Jews. I have learned a lot about other cultures and traditions over my lifetime and feel blessed.
Children with hearing loss desire the feeling of family and closeness just like children with hearing. Traditions and repetitions of activities are even more important to these children. Children with hearing loss need history and traditions explained to them in many different ways to ensure they understand. When we set the table for High Holidays or Easter, family chatters about last year, grandma's Seder table, etc. Kids with hearing loss do not hear this incidental language and tradition explanations. They may wonder why on earth you set out apples and honey for the Jewish New Year or why someone blows a horn (shofar) at Temple suddenly after a moment of silence. Parents often don't want to take time to explain, because it is too busy at the moment. These children may withdraw because of this and not want to participate.
Children with hearing loss need to be pre-taught about these traditions, objects, and vocabulary. Children of all abilities want to be connected with family. The key to connections is communication and the key to communication is language. Your children need to access the diverse world around us and the lessons need to start at home. Please be a safe place for your child to experiment, question, make mistakes, learn, and become confident. The language our children learn and experiences they learn now will carry them far into the future. I grew up in a very sheltered area and didn’t learn about the world until I left to go to college. As an adult, I am back and see all the culture that was 30 min away that no one exposed me to. It is a shame. My goal for my hearing children would be the same for my children with hearing loss; show them the world again and again. There is so much incredible history and tradition to be shared!
Allison Schley has been in the field of deaf and hard of hearing education for 20 years. She founded a nonprofit for families with hearing loss. She most recently wrote a children's book, entitled Forever Friends. This book shows the how a deaf dog and deaf boy teach the world that all kids are good and being deaf is okay.