My Deaf Daughter needs in-person learning Pandemic or not

 Before school ended in June 2020, I contacted the district, and let them know, my daughter needed in-person learning in the fall, that virtual learning had been impossible for her in the Spring. I felt my daughter needed a DHH cohort with her DHH peers and a Teacher of the deaf. If that were impossible due to covid restrictions, I thought my daughter would still need a TOD, especially if it were virtual.

       This summer myself, other DHH parents who were also interested in an in-person DHH program, and our DHH consultant met with the district, I also spoke with the county superintendent, it seemed we were making great progress. I felt optimistic we could create a program that met the  DHH student’s needs, most importantly my daughters. But in the Fall, I learned it was not going to happen. I was informed by e-mail at the end of the summer that there would not be a self-contained DHH program or a Teacher of the Deaf for on-line learning.

      My daughters education team, including myself, felt we could still make virtual learning a success. At first it seemed it might work, but in the beginning the class meetings were short, the teacher was the only one ever un-muted and the verbal information given to the students was extremely basic. Once things started to ramp up, the amount of spoken language presented in lessons everyday made it impossible again for my daughter to keep up.

      At the Early Intervention program run by the county my daughter had an excellent Total Communication DHH program with a credentialed DHH teacher and a small class where she could learn and listen, and she really excelled in school for the first 5 years of her life, but since she left that program when she turned five, school has been extremely difficult and really now it is impossible.  It’s not that my daughter can’t do the work, there are too many communication barriers, from extreme noise levels, to lessons being taught with a huge language load, which may work fine for hearing children, but not for Deaf .

      My daughter can’t hear what the teacher is saying or follow the large verbal input. Often, she doesn’t have time to get to the actual work. She’s still ten words back trying to figure out what the word was that she missed.  Tears often well in my daughters eyes, as she desperately tries to keep up with her teacher and the class. My daughters desk is set up with two computers, one for her teacher and the class and one for her interpreter.

      My daughter logs on to both computers, the teacher begins to read a folktale, these are new stories my daughter has never heard before, filled with new, rich, vocabulary. Often, they include language other than English. My daughter watches the tiny 3”x5” inch picture of the book on the computer screen as the teacher reads. At first my daughter puts her hands over her ears, she turns away from her interpreter, only glancing at the laptop set up on the right as little as she can. I ask my daughter “what did the teacher say?” my daughter responds, “Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, I couldn’t even hear her” Then I ask,” why don’t you watch your interpreter?” My daughter replies, “I don’t even know that kind of sign language”  (At Early Start the teacher used SEE sign the interpreter uses ASL in English order)Then my daughter starts showing me all the signs she knows, like Friend and sorry, showing me she does want to learn ASL and use it.  When it comes time to do the homework my daughter doesn’t know the story that was read or the sign language from the story, what the setting or scene is or who the characters are. This is all information that needs to be taught directly to my daughter with repetition. 

      I decided to get my daughter a Cochlear Implant, as long as she agreed, which she did, to make her experience in school easier, and work within the mainstream system. This has been the only option my daughter was given. I hope that the Cochlear implant works well for my daughter. But it breaks my heart that she says things like she does not want to go back to school until her CI is turned on. I think this is incredibly sad. My daughter should be equally part of her education regardless of her hearing level or having a CI or not as any other first grader.

      My daughter uses an FM system in school and at home. The FM has presented new, unexpected problems during virtual learning. At first it was constant problems with the FM not connecting properly. Then, once we finally got a reliable FM there was loud feedback every time someone un-muted or talked too loudly.

      My daughter has severe loss in her right ear. Her hearing aid is turned up to maximum volume. During the whole class ZOOM meetings there are moments when it is so loud from the feedback, my daughter has once again been traumatized by loud noise in an education setting. Now, she won’t wear her FM on the computer at all, which has resulted in further isolation, she is now unable and unwilling to do ZOOM calls or Facetime with her friends.

      Last week, in a last-ditch effort to get the FM to be usable during class, I took my daughter to the audiologist to get her new sparkly ear mold. The audiologist checked everything, the FM and hearing aid were perfect. But when we returned home the feedback still happened and the FM was still unusable during class Zoom times. The next day, which was October 8th, 2020, I asked my daughter to try to work with her interpreter, and that she must attend school. That day my daughter tried hard, she learned new signs from her interpreter and watched her teacher with all her might. That night my daughters new sparkly ear mold was red from blood. She had been pushing her mold deeper in her ear all day to try to hear better. Something our surgeon says deaf children often do as their hearing level is dropping.

The next day my daughter didn’t want to go back online, but I encouraged her to do three classes and try to watch her interpreter and do her best. My daughter always tries to do her best.

      Today is Monday, October 12th, 2020. I tried to encourage my daughter to go to school, to work with her interpreter, but after she logged on for social studies, she has no interest in going back. My daughter told me she’s waiting for a new class. I can not force her anymore to do the impossible and we will be working offline today.

      The virtual mainstream program is not working for my daughter. In fact, it is doing her harm. The time to act is now. I cannot sit back any longer and watch my daughter suffer and be traumatized.

       I am in a unique situation, as the parent of twins, one hearing one deaf, I can see every day how well virtual works for my hearing son, while failing my deaf daughter. My son, who last year was failing kindergarten, who I thought had defiant disorder and ADHD, who started this Fall bouncing off the walls during Zoom meetings with his class, is now thriving. His teacher has done what I thought would have been the impossible. My son is a new kid; he is getting everything he needs through virtual learning and more. He is socially well adjusted, and his behavior has improved immensely. I have no complaints with my sons current education, and I feel even if we had to do virtual for all of first grade my son would get what he needs and be ready for second grade. 

      Put yourself in my shoes, how would you feel if your daughter who loved school all her life was in tears about school daily and refused to go back and When at school she covered her ears and put her head down on the desk. I think you would continue to advocate for your child until that little girl was in a learning environment where her needs were being met and that love of learning sparkle was in her eyes again instead of tears.  

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Thoughts on Motherhood Through the Eyes of an Artist