I had a really great conversation with a student today who is hearing impaired. She doesn’t sign much, because the schools she went through did not have a teacher or aide to help her communicate through ASL. Her sweet Aunt taught her how to read lips and to speak by putting the back of her hand to her mouth (the Aunt’s) as she pronounced sounds and words. But others in her life found her ability to speak contradictory to what they thought they knew about deafness, and told her she wasn’t hearing impaired. They told her she chose not to hear.
She was pushed through her school system, pretty much passed just to get her to graduation, without anyone taking the time to make sure she was actually learning. She’s had to take many developmental courses to get to college level, which I find infuriating, because just talking to her for 15 minutes showed me that she is quite intelligent.
She admitted, through tears, that she is embarrassed by her hearing impairment, because of the way she speaks. Her speech is slurred because her hearing impairment is profound, though I had no trouble understanding her. She fears giving presentations in class because of it, and she actually told me she feels she can’t have a healthy relationship because of it. Can I tell you how painfully she made my heart ache?
Her Aunt and her Grandfather both helped her growing up, and she credited them for where she is now. And while I agreed with her that they certainly were positive influences in her life, I encouraged her to recognize her own hard work and determination as the biggest reasons why she is getting a college degree and setting and achieving strong goals for herself. She wants to transfer to a renowned school for the deaf to become a teacher of students with all levels of hearing impairment.
Though she is a good 15 years younger than me, I was able to talk to her like a sister or a trusted friend, and I think she admitted to a lot of things she’s been holding inside. And I think I might have gotten through to her on some level. At least, I hope I did. Fortunately, I will be seeing a lot more of her, and I look forward to getting to know her better.
You don’t know how this conversation and this young woman affected me, though. To see her shame and embarrassment rolling down her cheeks into a tissue shattered me. In fact, I’m crying right now. How, how could this intelligent, goal-oriented, determined, beautiful young lady have any doubt as to how amazing she is? How could she not see what I saw? Then I realized – no one has ever given her a look in the proverbial mirror, so that she could see what I saw.
And then I realized that I need to be the person who holds said mirror for my sons, so that they may see the wonder I see every time I look at them. They both face such challenges in life, in varying forms and degrees. Without that mirror, they may also end up with their shame being absorbed by a tissue before a stranger. I could never forgive myself for that.