Children of Deaf Adults (CODA) and School

*CODA: Child of Deaf Adult

Once again, a new school year begins. This is a good time for teachers and educators to be reminded that though some children exhibit social behaviours and habits that may appear to be a social or learning disability to be careful before jumping to inaccurate judgements and conclusions.  In our case, Bear, being a CODA was raised to communicate up close and personal, and loudly as my hearing deteriorated with each passing year.

We once had a parent/teacher conference in which our son’s teacher asked the school’s counselor for children with disabilities and learning disorders to join us. Here were the main issues the teacher brought to our attention.

1.” He’s so LOUD.”

2. “He gets into people’s personal space.”

After the teacher explained what was going on with Bear, Fabulous Husband looked at me, then looked at the teacher and said, “My wife is deaf.”

That moment, the teacher and counselor became aware of how a child’s adaptation to a deaf parent’s communication needs can easily be misconstrued as something else.

Yes, he is loud. I have inadvertently taught him to be loud over the course of his life. Even before I found out my hearing loss had reached the degree of “deaf” I had been telling him to speak up. Every day. All day.

Though he learned Sign Language as a baby, when Fabulous Husband came along, who is hearing,
Bear signed less and talked more.

I have a vision impairment, as well. Nystagmus makes lip reading more difficult for me if someone is not right in front of me. Nystagmus is when the eyes quickly move back and forth, like a tic or muscle spasm. I’m not sure if it is a muscle or neurological disorder. I only know that it interferes with reading lips. As a result, I have taught Bear that it’s appropriate to get right in front of me so I can “see” what he is saying. Hence, he has been trained it is ok to get into the personal space of others, face to face, up close and personal.

I have a sneaky suspicion I may unconsciously do these very things myself. So, if we happen to meet in the future, and I seem to be closing in on your personal space, it is because I can’t hear you and I want to “see” what you have to say. There’s nothing weird about that.

Some deaf people don’t hear themselves, depending on the degree of deafness. People may think they have a speech impediment, an accent, or have been “tipping the bottle” and their words are slurred. That is not the case. Think about it. If you had never heard people talking, you either would not speak at all, or you would not know what sounds are coming out of your mouth. It is by speech therapy and training that many of us can even accomplish to speak as well as we do. Speaking s not something all Deaf can do even if they did have the training and help available.

As I have become deaf through the passing years, my own voice often gets louder to compensate. I often have to tell people I have no volume control and I may need a little help. Sometimes, I sense my voice has taken on a monotone quality. Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel “right” and in that case, I appreciate when someone lets me know I’m getting a little loud because that helps me learn to be conscious of how I form my words and to put effort into my speech.

Sometimes, a child may exhibit traits that can be misinterpreted as having special needs or a medical problem when in fact, it may be the result of environmental issues. Just because something may not seem “normal” to you, does not mean anything is “wrong”.  It may be perfectly normal for that child’s family. In which case, it may just be a matter of teaching there are other socially appropriate ways of behaving.

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