Hi. More. All done. Mom. Dad.
Anyone who has parented a toddler understands the importance of how a child communicates basic concepts. When a baby who is deaf is born to hearing parents who do not know sign language, the struggle to communicate can be overwhelming.
A new free overnight experience, provided by Iowa School for the Deaf (ISD) and Early Hearing Detection and Intervention of Iowa (EHDI) was held June 9 -10 on ISD’s campus. Parents of children aged 2-to-5 years old learned some basic American Sign Language (ASL) vocabulary, became connected with state resources and learned from Deaf mentors. The camp is called Li’l Paws, a nod to ISD’s bobcat mascot.
Unique to this educational offering was the requirement for parents to attend only with their young children who are deaf or hard of hearing. “We wanted to provide an experience for parents where they could truly focus on understanding and embracing their deaf child’s world,” said Stacey Morgan, ISD’s family resources coordinator who planned the event. “Concentrating on their deaf child’s needs results in parents knowing what is important to the child and what they need at home- such as more language exposure or self-advocacy.”
Six families from Green Hills, Heartland and Keystone Area Education agencies attended and stayed in ISD dorms, enabling them to network during meals and downtime.
While children enjoyed free play with caretakers who are native or fluent signers, parents learned about free resources from ISD and EHDI, such as virtual sign language classes. A panel of deaf adults shared their experiences growing up as deaf people. During meals, hearing parents who have raised deaf children also shared their experiences. These sessions offered perspective and tips for the audience, ranging from how to handle discipline and playing sports when wearing cochlear implants.
According to Morgan, some of the hearing parents felt a sense of relief they don’t necessarily have to be fluent in sign language for their child to succeed. “As long as they are involved, have high expectations of their children and encourage them to advocate for themselves, their children will become literate citizens,” Morgan said.
Deaf mentors interacted with the children, demonstrating for hearing parents how to get a child’s attention, how to read with their child and engage them in play. Deaf mentors help parents learn and use visual learning strategies. They have experienced the feelings and situations families are facing, and can share insight and provide optimistic perspectives, which are helpful for hearing parents with deaf children.
“We loved watching Deaf mentors working with their assigned families – it was a beautiful sight!” said Morgan. “The best part was introducing hearing parents to many deaf people. When they meet competent citizens who are deaf, it gives them hope about their deaf child’s future,” she said.
Chantelle Broome of Des Moines agrees. She attended Li’l Paws with her 3-year-old son Dawson, who is fitted with hearing aids in both ears. Broome, along with Dawson’s father Matt Broome, noted they were most impressed the way Deaf mentors could interact directly with her son.
“He can learn so much more from someone who is fluent in ASL,” she said. “Signing is hugely beneficial for him. “His speech is not always clear but if we teach him signing, he can sign and speak and maybe be less frustrated with me trying to understand him or repeating words and phrases.”
From the Li’l Paws experience, Broome said Dawson’s family learned the importance of signing to Dawson while speaking. Although Dawson might not yet know the signs, Broome said the family uses them to reinforce communication. “His older sisters are his biggest cheerleaders and because they are using sign, he has really gotten excited about signing,” said Broome.
Broome said in the past when she would see families in the community with children who have hearing aids, she would try to connect with them and share experiences. She said Li’l Paws provided the opportunity for families to formally interact, and also for children who are deaf or hard of hearing to play with peers.
Now, Morgan’s goals for participants are for them to reach out to EHDI and ISD for support and take advantage of their services and offerings. “We hope parents will realize how important it is to continue exposing their children to language at home, telling children what they are doing, what they are seeing and thinking, and be more confident to read books aloud with their children,” she said.
For more information on family resources offered through Iowa School for the Deaf, contact Morgan at Stacey.firstname.lastname@example.org or 712.406.0512.