Living With a Deaf Parent: Life Story
Daniel is 16 now and although he can hear perfectly, he knows a lot more about deafness than others of his age. Daniel’s mum Marie has been profoundly deaf since she was a child. “When I was a baby, my dad was the one who would hear me cry during the night and would wake mum to feed me. He was quite involved with bringing me up and I think we are closer now because of that,” says Daniel.
With modern technology, deaf mums and parents who are both deaf can buy baby monitors that flash and vibrate when they pick up sound, so it's easier to be alert to a crying baby even when you are asleep. Many deaf parents also invest in webcam-like cameras that link up to a television, so they can see their baby in its cot.
Family LifeDaniel thinks that his family life is quite normal – better than some of his friends who have moved around, or whose family has experience a divorce or financial hardship. “There are things that are a lot worse than having a deaf parent,” he says. When Daniel began to talk and walk, his mum had to be on her toes but enjoyed the challenge of keeping up with him. “I am used to lip reading but when you have a small child, you probably use intuition as a method of communication for a lot longer. Lip reading early speech is a nightmare!” laughs Marie.
As Daniel started school, Marie found other parents a bit stand-offish at first but she was used to that reaction. “People fear what they don’t understand and it is difficult to remember that I can’t detect what they are saying unless I can see their lips,” she says. The primary school in Daniel’s home town of Dunstable was very supportive and he did well there and still keeps in touch with some of the friends he made who didn’t go on to the same secondary school.
The teachers at the school commented that Daniel was a lot better at communicating with children his own age and with his teachers than many of his peers. “Perhaps because my mum went out of her way to make sure communication was never a problem, I was used to reaching out to make myself understood,” says Daniel.
Teenage TroublesLike most families, Daniel and his parents have not breezed through his teenage years without problems. When he was 15, Marie became aware of angry looks and off-hand comments from the previously friendly next door neighbours. “It turned out that Daniel had been playing his music in his room very loudly late at night. My husband was away with work for the week and it was summer, so everyone had their windows open. I don’t think they had made the connection that I didn’t know what was happening,” explains Marie. Daniel thought it was a huge joke, until he got grounded for a month from playing in his local football team. “Just because I am deaf doesn’t mean I can’t be tough,” says Marie.
Marie found Daniel’s early years at secondary school that hardest time to cope with as Daniel was bullied by a group of other boys, just because of Marie’s deafness. “It was just name-calling and taunting and Daniel seemed to find it irritating more than anything but Marie was really upset when she found out. I think she took it a lot harder than he did because the bullies were singling him out because of her deafness,” explains James, Daniel’s dad.
Support GroupsLike many deaf parents, Marie doesn’t know many other deaf people, so had nobody to share her unique worries about bringing up Daniel. “I could communicate with other hearing parents, but I found it difficult sometimes not to be able to meet up with other deaf parents,” says Marie.
Today, deaf parents in the UK can get a lot of support from Children of Deaf Parents UK, which arranges family fun days and other events to bring deaf parents together for mutual support. They also run workshops and set up local groups and run a website and email newsletter. “I contribute quite a lot to their efforts now and hope that it helps others but I wish it had been around when Daniel was younger,” adds Marie.