When I get hooked on something, it is hard for me to stop thinking about it. I got really obsessed with the OJ Simpson case after watching The People Vs OJ Simpson last year and now I’ve moved onto The Assassination of Gianni Versace (watch it on BBC iPlayer it is so good.)
With that in mind, I also cannot stop thinking about ‘A Silent Child’. I think about the low expectations the family had for the deaf child in their life compared to the high expectations I have for the deaf children that are in mine.
I wanted to therefore write about a number of different ways that the deaf children I teach/ I know are amazing and can achieve anything that their hearing peers can, and in some cases do even better in. These are some examples…
When it comes to reading, deaf children are usually behind their mainstream peers due to language delay. As a hearing child, whether you realise it or not you are always accessing language. This is through just having the radio or TV on, being spoken to or hearing a conversation around you – a hearing child is constantly absorbing new words. A deaf child will only access (signed) language when they are watching it or being communicated with directly and therefore initially start their younger years with less vocabulary.
Despite this, the really impressive thing, is that when the language has caught up and deaf children are reading books, they have to do the challenging part of signing their books in the right context. For example ‘Emma called Ellie to tell her about her weekend’. This sentence can be easily read by a hearing child and nobody will ask that child for the context or meaning. For a deaf child, they would have to make sure they signed the right word in order for it to show that they have understood the sentence. Does it mean called as in a name, is it called as a synonym for shouting or is it called from a mobile phone?
Each form of ‘called’ has a different sign depending on the context, yet a hearing child can just read the word and move on. Both sets of children can read the word – yet deaf children have to prove they understand the meaning before they move on.
The deaf children I work with and teach were born to perform! They are natural actors and actresses as they use their body, face and hands everyday to tell a story and express themselves.
It is said that deaf people are very blunt – and say things how it is. This definitely shows in the facial expressions the children pull in response to different scenarios. They pull faces that I don’t think my face has the ability to achieve. This would come in very handy for method acting.
Acting is a great opportunity for work with deaf children and adults. There are different forms of acting such as mime and mask work which rely on the body and gestures to express how a character is feeling. This allows acting to be an accessible career for both deaf and hearing people.
There are already many Deaf accessible theatre companies such as ‘Deafinitely Theatre’ and ‘The DH Ensemble’. They are one step ahead at seeing the potential in Deaf actors and having high expectations for them.
Good with languages:
Hearing people -who are not involved in the deaf would would probably not realise but, BSL has its own grammatical structure and therefore the word order is different. ‘Where do you live’ in English is signed as ‘You live where?’. The hearing world does not write English in BSL order and so because of this, we need to teach deaf children English. This means that for deaf children who have BSL as their first language, they have to adjust to writing in a different word order compared to the way they would sign. Not only this, but some children I work with come from Eastern Europe and their families sign in their native language at home. This would mean that a child as young as five could be juggling 3 different languages as well as making friends, learning how to share and just generally getting through the day.
Great with technology:
I think it must be the generation we live in but children are fantastic with Ipads and computers. I had to wait until I started secondary school before I got my first mobile phone. It was indestructible and I deliberately tried to break it to get a new one – but it still managed to stay working (sorry if you are reading this mum and dad).
Now, children are just born into a world of technology and deaf children are extremely good at using these devices. It could be because it is so visual with a clearly laid out format with easy to recognise symbols and apps, but the deaf children I work with are managing to create slide shows on Keynote on Apple devices building in exciting and engaging animations. Going into animations or IT work is going to be an ever growing job market as the years go by and would be a great career path for many deaf people.
What better career path for a deaf person than to become a Teacher of the Deaf?! They would be able to empathise with other deaf people and appreciate the feelings and emotions of deaf children. They would be excellent communicators in the classroom too and know the best teaching style for a deaf child.
These examples do not even include how resilient the children are in a hearing world with barriers facing them everyday.
It doesn’t include how the Government won’t allow deaf children to do a GCSE in their first language, but they manage to achieve a qualification in their second language of English – let’s celebrate that these children are bilingual!
It does not include that despite many hours of speech and language therapy some deaf children are still not able to use their voice to its full potential, although I always manage to hear a cheeky laugh and giggle creep through.
It does not include that deaf children are just as funny, crazy, silly, clever, stubborn etc as their mainstream peers and just like any other child you would meet. It is because of this, that I love working and learning from the children at my current school, and hope that they continue to exceed my expectations.
Emma Colton – firstname.lastname@example.org