Transitions and Total Communication

Peppa Pig on the T.V., Jack and Fiona watch with earnest while they eat their breakfast. I sip on my second cup of coffee; too sweet, a bit cold. Rain drops splatter on the window panes, another rainy February day. Billy lays at my feet with her messed up leg that didn’t heal in the two weeks it was splinted. The vet says I need to go to an orthopedic veterinarian now, five hundred dollars later. I don’t think so, how much would that cost? I think Billy will heal in time, and she’s learning to get around on three legs.  It’s one of those situations, I find myself questioning my decision about not going further to get it fixed right, is that cruel? But then the trauma of going to another vet and being put under and possibly having a surgery and a cast for who knows how long. Poor Dog. I miss her so much, our hikes. I can’t wait until she’s better.

Today is my day off, babies at the indoor park, called “The Pavilion”. All I want to do is chill out and work in my studio, but that’s not in the cards today. Today I need to work on Fiona’s IEP; meaning read it, understand it, tweak it a bit, as well as fill out paperwork for the San Rafael Public School System. It’s stressful and exciting and emotional. Jack and Fiona are turning three years old! Going through this transition process, my time ending at Early Start; a second home to us for the past three years. Early Start has been my support system, my early childhood development learning center, my therapy, my community. The teachers at Early Start are my family, the other moms and kids in the program, I wouldn’t have made it without them. I feel so fortunate to have this support, it has been so important to Fiona’s development. This is a public program our taxes help pay for, it’s one of those programs that if Betsy Devos had her way, she’d probably cut it, (That’s just my guess, and my fear.)

This week, as I was visiting preschools, and doing my research about deafness, hearing loss, and learning environments I started imagining Jack and Fiona out in the world, alone without me or the teachers from Early Start for the first time. I had to envision Fiona in a preschool program with twelve other kids, and Jack too. But Jack can hear and he is an outgoing, rambunctious boy. I’m sure he will have a bit of separation anxiety, and a bit of fear probably being in such a different type of learning environment, one for typically developed kids, but he’ll be fine. When I envisioned Fiona in that situation I was saddened. I realized right away she would be missing so much. I talked to one of the preschool directors, I asked her, “Will the teachers know her hearing aid batteries are dead? Will they make sure she understands what is being said? Will they do any direct teaching?” The director said, “No, we teach to the group, we don’t do any individual teaching. Fiona would need a shadow teacher to get the best of both worlds, being around typically developed hearing peers and learning what her peers are learning”. I’ve been told since; the director isn’t allowed to say this to me, it’s discrimination, but I appreciated her honesty.

This morning I was sitting with Fiona and Jack listening to Peter, Paul, and Mary, “It’s Raining”. Fiona was sitting in front of me, Jack to my side. I realized the lyrics were available, so I started singing, Fiona turned her head and looked at me intensely as I sang. She could have easily kept looking at the lyrics on the phone or just listened to me, I was directly behind her, but she looked me in the eyes, focusing on my mouth and the way the words came out. She had her hearing aids on, but she still wanted face to face contact. In the IEP Fiona’s goals are heavily focused on auditory/oral only. For example, the speaker talking to Fiona with their mouth covered so she must focus on the sound of the words only with no visual cues. Doing this type of exercise in a loud in environment or in a group. Limiting her visual cues. There is no talk of “Total Communication” in Fiona’s IEP, (yet!) because I was told there is no need because that is how the class she is entering is taught anyhow. I want to add goals that must do with Total Communication because that it how Fiona communicates. That is definitely her preferred                method of having a conversation with someone, learning a story, singing songs. Fiona thrives using a mixture of sign, visual aids, sound, everything. I totally understand wanting a hearing-impaired child to develop their oral listening skills by any means necessary, using hearing aids, getting cochlear implants, if applicable, because we live in a hearing world. There is little education taught to the general public about communicating with deaf and hard of hearing people, sign language is not encouraged, in fact I find that sign language is discouraged more than encouraged. Why wouldn’t people be encouraged to learn sign? Hearing and hearing impaired? It’s a curious one. People are always talking about all the new technology that will be available, “Making people hear again”. I know we can never know the future and speculating isn’t the best thing to do, but I often think about Fiona’s future, I wonder things like “what if she decided she doesn’t want to wear hearing aids all the time?” Or “What if her hearing gets worse over time and her hearing aids don’t work anymore and she chooses not to get implants?”.  For these possibilities alone I feel it is in our best interest to focus on total communication now and forever.

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Thoughts on Motherhood Through the Eyes of an Artist