Early Healthy Deaf Identity vs. Early Hearing Detection & Intervention

As the 17th Early Hearing Detection & Intervention (EHDI) annual national meeting opens in Denver, Colorado, this weekend, Deaf Counseling Center’s licensed therapist, Sheli Barber, reminds everyone attending of the importance of paying attention to the Deaf child’s healthy identity. When language and culture are made accessible to Deaf children, the years of therapy needed to unpack the trauma associated with language and cultural deprivation will be greatly reduced. This video is captioned and HD.

Sheli Barber: So many of us share the common experience of cultural and language deprivation, audism and identity trauma. This all begins in the hospital. On the day we were born, our parents held us and looked at us with loving gazes. Then the doctor entered the room and announced, “I am sorry, your baby is Deaf.”

A referral to the audiologist followed. The audiologist conducted a test and confirmed, “Yes, your baby is definitely Deaf. I am sorry.” Next was the referral to the cochlear implant surgeon, who said, “Yes, your baby is Deaf. To ensure the best chance in this world for a normal life, I strongly recommend a cochlear implant or a hearing aid. I recommend using speech and simultaneous communication. I recommend your child is mainstreamed with other Deaf students, or alone. Your child needs to interact with hearing peers and hearing family members. Then your child will grow up to be normal.”

The parents believe the doctor knows what is best, so they place the child in a hearing school. The child is wearing tiny new hearing aids or implants, which many of us disliked and insisted on removing. We dreaded and rebelled against having to go to endless and pointless speech therapy sessions. We received praise at school only if we succeeded in passing and behaving exactly like hearing people. If we behaved like we were Deaf, we were criticized harshly. As Deaf children, we learned that it was better to act like we were hearing and do our best to fit into that world. We struggled many times in different social situations, outdoor recess, lunchtime, in classrooms, with our families, at Thanksgiving. We always felt left out and uncomfortable.

It was not until we became adults, that we were finally exposed for the first time to the Deaf community, ASL and Deaf culture, perhaps through college, or the community or work. We were thrilled and excited to meet other Deaf people and finally discover our identity. At the same time, we experienced feelings of resentment about all the years of audism we had experienced.

Many of us went to counseling to unpack the effects of audism, to reclaim and heal ourselves, so we could feel whole again as Deaf adults. Now, with Early Healthy Deaf Identity, we can transform the process by which medical providers approach parents at the hospital. We should celebrate the life of each child. Remember that moment when parents are holding their newborn for the first time? The doctor should come in and say, “Congratulations! Your child is healthy and Deaf! Here are all the information and resources that will help your child grow up to lead a very healthy life as a Deaf person.”

Please know that for more information, you can contact Deaf Counseling Center: www.deafcounseling.com.

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