Life in progress

Body Language – #AtoZ Challenge


My A to Z theme concerns the joys and challenges of being the hearing mother of my Deaf son, Alex.

Though Sign Languages are as different as spoken languages worldwide, one thing is consistent; they all rely heavily on body language and facial expression. I’ll never forget the first time I was shown the sign for “not yet.” I actually laughed at my teacher, thinking he was joking. There was a mortifying moment. “Not yet” is exactly the same hand-sign as “late,” only with the tongue stuck out. (For a visual: ) Anyway, by the time my son Alex started to learn American Sign Language I pretty much had my own face and body under control. Unless I’m angry, which is another story altogether. But when we go out in public, the results of people doing things without realizing it can range from amusing back to mortifying. For me. Alex has a blast.

For instance, almost any time I take him out, someone speaks to him. He’s a very engaging little boy. He smiles at people all the time. Invariably they ask him questions, and when they do, they smile back and usually nod their heads because they’re asking a positive question that they want him to agree to:

“Are you looking forward to going back to school?”

“Do you like Spiderman?” (Because he’s always either holding or wearing something to do with Spiderman.)

Alex sees them nod and smile and he nods back. He doesn’t need to hear the question. Which always puts me in the awkward position of having to decide whether or not to tell them he’s Deaf. Unless they ask him another question to which he would have to answer, for instance, “How old are you?” I don’t tell them. Why not, you ask?

People are embarrassed when they get caught talking to a Deaf person. It’s like they feel like they’ve suddenly made a fool of themselves simply by being friendly. When there comes a point at which I have to explain that the reason he’s not talking to them is he’s deaf, they either:

a) say, “Oh,” and walk away, pretending they didn’t speak to us in the first place;
b) say, “But he can lip-read, right?” because obviously he knew what they asked him. He answered the way they wanted him to! (I then say, “Yes, a little,” to ease their minds);
or c) whisper to me, “I’m sorry.” Depending on how I’m feeling on that particular day, I’ll either, say, “That’s okay, he’s just happy to interact,” or, “That’s okay,” and think to myself, Don’t feel guilty about it. It’s not your fault.

I sometimes wonder if, on some level, people know he has a good idea of what they’re thinking. Much of our body language is unconscious. We know we’re doing it, but we don’t always know when, or whether or not we’re controlling it well. And if that doesn’t make you feel self-conscious around a Deaf person, I don’t know what will.

Alex’s ability to read expressions gets embarrassing when he laughs at people. And he does, loudly and with great delight.Β  Take, for instance, a scenario in which you’re out for dinner with someone you’re trying to impress, and you put something in your mouth that you discover you don’t like.Β  You’re turning green at the gills but you’re trying to downplay it, so you grin and bear it while you continue to chew and swallow the offending piece of food. Meanwhile, at the next table, there’s a kid absolutely killing himself with laughter at the subtle expression you’re trying to cover up, while his mother, red in the face, attempts not to giggle at her offspring’s reaction.

All I can really do is try to distract him. I can’t say to the person, “He’s Deaf, and you look like you just put a live bug in your mouth.” It’s amazing how quickly people cease to be charmed by him in these situations. And they happen all the time. Of course I try to explain to Alex that it’s rude to laugh at people, but first, my vocabulary isn’t fantastic in Sign, so when he asks why, I’m at a loss. And second, how can I explain to him that he needs to suppress this wonderful ability to read subtleties that goes flying over the heads of most of the population? So I take it case-by-case and do my best to make everyone happy.

Ah, joy.


To meet Alex, click here.


Author: Linda G. Hill

There's a writer in here, clawing her way out.

25 thoughts on “Body Language – #AtoZ Challenge

  1. Reading body language is an art itself and I love the fact that Alex is engaging. I wish I could meet him πŸ™‚


  2. Everybody deserves laughing at, at least once a day, it teaches humility, so Alex is doing them all a favour.


  3. Body language and facial expression is, obviously, difficult for me. Not seeing makes it hard to know when someone is speaking to me, if they don’t make it clearly known. Smiling at someone or giving a polite nod isn’t done, not because I don’t want to do it.
    It’s just one of those things, the different reactions you get when you have a disability, from people when out in public. I can’t see a lot of it, but I feel the awkwardness all the time. That I don’t need to see to detect.
    Glad to read this, to learn.


  4. I was never around deaf people much until I moved to Idaho two and a half years ago. One of my friends here has been going deaf since childhood and is nearly there now, and another friend has been taking classes for ASL interpreting, so I hear about deafness a lot, and understand there’s a thriving community of deaf people in this region. I never thought of the challenges of raising a deaf child. I’ll put your blog into my A to Z blog list and return. Thanks for writing about this.


  5. Pingback: My Article Read (4-2-2016) – My Daily Musing

  6. I hope I wouldn’t walk away or embarrass any of us


  7. I have a similar but different situation with my hearing but always-homeschooled kids. It’s amazing to see how often adults use scripts to talk to kids, and I’ve seen that nodding motion Alex gets. Often, people are stymied right from the start, when they ask my kids something like, “No school today?” (“No, never,” sometimes elicits an understanding that they’re homeschooled, other times bewilderment, because my kids are 14.5 and almost 12, so they are clearly neither “too young” nor “too old” for school. Other times, the first question is “What grade are you in?” That one’s always a flop; grades mean nothing to our unschoolers, who learn autodidactically rather than from a curriculum. I’ve made a habit of telling them their registered grade from time to time, but it’s simply not relevant information in their lives.

    If Alex cracked up because of me, I’d be both delighted (gosh, do I love to see kids belly-laughing!) and fascinated to know what unintentional messages I was sharing. =D

    I’m loving getting to know Alex this way.

    Boldly Going Through the Alphabet!
    Part-Time Minion for Holton’s Heroes
    shanjeniah’s Lovely Chaos


  8. I am sure tht as long as you are senstive in your response all will be well. ❀ ❀


  9. I would probably think he was just a nut like a younger cousin of mine who used to laugh like that. He was not deaf. My sister and I were afraid someone was going to beat him up but they never did and now he is a psychiatrist.


  10. I learned a lot today. I can picture him laughing at the person at the next table. I wish I could πŸ™‚


  11. I don’t have much experience with deaf people. I’m in the “Oh” group, but not the walk away group. I’ve had plenty of deaf people writing what they want or whatever, in job situations. I wonder what the walk away people do when it’s their job to help?
    I think it’s great that Alex has the societal freedom to laugh at what’s funny when the rest of us must pretend.
    One of my college roommates volunteered at the deaf school, so I learned a little. I made mistakes, but she’d tell me just like any other language, people like it when you make the effort.
    I signed with my babies, which kinda backfired on me. Sassy was verbal beyond belief, so she signed WHILE she talked. lol Then Moo wouldn’t sign, she’d smack my hands away and scream louder. lol Moo only consistently signed “milk.” Fortunately, Sassy could often interpret the rest of the screaming. Signing was supposed to help ease the frustration of not being verbal in a verbal world. I guess it works better for other people.


  12. I’ve always wanted to learn sign language. It never would have occurred to me that facial expressions would matter. Thank you for enlightening us. I look forward to learning more.


  13. What a great post. I’ve always marveled at sign language but we often forget how powerful simple body language can be. I heard a long time ago that it’s wrong to cross my arms when listening to someone, it means I am closed to what they are saying. It’s still something I try to avoid doing.


  14. Reading body language is a great skill that will help him throughout his life. Too bad not everyone can do it. It would help to know when politicians are lying.

    Liked by 1 person

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