I find the discussion of identity a fascinating one. Who decides our identity?Should genetics, our family's bloodline, our race, our nationality, our religion, our cognitive ability,our physical ability, our senses?The list can go on and on. Who should give us an identity?Should our parents, our teachers, ourselves,our siblings, our friends?
The issue of identity is prevalent in the hearing loss world. Research has shown that children with hearing loss are doing much better academically and communication-wise in noise and in quiet. However,their self esteem is low. This is because many of these children do not "fit in". Are they hearing?Are they hard of hearing?Are they deaf? An audiogram showing a hearing loss does not define a person and their hearing loss. A person with a moderate to severe hearing loss unaided might perform far better in noise with hearing aids on than a person with only a mild hearing loss-it all depends. Who is to say what category that person fits into?
I was raised a female Jew. I am hearing and ,for the most part, of sound body and mind. As I became a 20 year old, I began to question my faith and investigated Christianity. This is a personal journey that I won't get into-the fact is,however, that I did convert in my 20's. My parents were less than happy. I wondered why that was-I was still the same over the top fabulous daughter-some wise rabbi told me that it was like I was closing my door on the identity that they gave me. He,the rabbi, encouraged me to follow G-d's path in whatever method fit my heart..but he cautioned and explained about my parents.
Children are often given a label from audiologists, teachers of deaf/hh, regular ed teachers,parents and peers. I had a student who was raised with a moderate to severe hearing loss and was oral-he spoke,never signed. He just always struggled to fit in. He heard "too well" for his friends and coaches to really grasp the concept that he really was working 200% harder than they were to make heads or tails of what was going on. He didn't fit in the hearing world,because he often missed jokes, felt left out, and knew he was different. The best times of his year were when he went to the Lion's Camp each summer to be immersed in a culture of deaf and hard of hearing children-signers and talkers. He came home each summer with a smile that his mom only saw once/year.
It did not surprise her when he asked to go to Wisconsin School For The Deaf. After a year of learning ASL on the go, he decided he wanted a bigger academic challenge with more kids in his grade. He transferred to Model Secondary School for the Deaf (MSSD)on the Gallaudet Campus. He will graduate from there next June and I will proudly be seating in the row with his family watching my oral student walk across that stage while everyone around him signs. He has become who he feels most comfortable as-a deaf young man. He will go to college at a "hearing" college and mingle in the hearing world. He knows that his jobs will be with hearing people,but he is now comfortable in his skin and is able to switch modes of communication(talking to signing)into the hearing and deaf world without a blink. I could not be more proud.
How do YOU identify yourself and WHO gave you that identity?
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.