I’m not sure precisely when I started worrying about the social impact of Amelia’s deafness. Maybe it was the day I read too much online about how isolating, confusing and downright exhausting social experiences can be for deaf kids, always up against it in the hearing world.
Daunting words in bold-face leapt out at me from the computer screen. Sharp-edged ones like, depression. Anxiety. Paranoia. And anger. That one always seemed to be in italics for maximum impact.
It’s not a doom-sayer’s checklist – ‘nasty things coming your way when you’re raising a deaf child’ – but it is a set of emotional risk factors that can’t be taken lightly.
My aim as a parent is to hopefully reduce their power to hurt my daughter on her path between two contrasting worlds – deaf and hearing.
Melinda Hildebrandt speaks candidly to Mia Freedman about parenting her daughter who has autism and is deaf. (Post continues below.)
Amelia is not quite six years old and we have only known about her deafness for a tick under four years. It’s not a long time in the grand scheme of things. But already I see just how easy it is for her as a deaf child to be left out or excluded by virtue of her difference to other people.
Let’s take birthday parties as a classic example. Oh birthday parties, how I hate thee with a passion. It’s unavoidable, but kid’s parties are the worst kind of place for a deaf child to feel a part of the natural order of things.
Because they’re too loud, too chaotic, too MAD for Amelia to make sense of what is going on around her. Sure, she wears hearing aids but they are next to useless in the face of such an intense racket. Those little devices can sift the wheat sounds from the cacophonous chaff and so she is mostly lost.
I watch her making her way with excited bewilderment around these parties and I feel like throwing a huge, warm blanket over her. Underneath its soft layers, background noise would be reduced to a gentle hum that would not compete with voices speaking clearly in merry conversation.
In either context Amelia is alone. ‘Alone’ in the noisy crowd, or by herself beneath the blanket I throw over her every day when we come home and I can set things up exactly as she needs them to be.
Amelia and her mum, Melinda Hildebrandt. Image: supplied.
It is because of this potential for loneliness that I love being able to send her to a school for deaf children.
When I visit Amelia there and see her with her classroom comrades, it's sometimes hard to see where she starts and they finish.
These six classmates have been together for almost two years now and they are incredibly close. Whether they speak or sign to each other there is something almost organic about how they interact.
It’s born of the time they’ve spent bonding as friends but it is also the result of their shared identities as bilingual deaf kids. Communication between these children operates on a plane of mutual instinct and understanding; touching or tapping to gain attention, waving to be seen or heard, using gesture to add meaning: all form the basis of a code that marks them out as members of a club, a culture.