I remember the first time someone called me using TTY plus Telephone Relay Service. The way it works is, the telephone company has a hearing interpreter with a TTY (teletype) device between the hearing person and the Deaf person. On the Deaf person’s end, they are either watching the interpreter sign on screen, or reading on the device. In between, the interpreter is listening and signing or typing, and on the hearing person’s end, he or she must speak and then say, “Go ahead,” when finished. It’s a complicated, and at first awkward, but effective method of communicating.
I also remember the first time I spoke to a Deaf person through an interpreter face-to-face. Again, awkward. First, I wasn’t sure where to look. When the Deaf person signed to me, I was able to watch and listen to the interpreter at the same time. But when I spoke, the Deaf person watched the interpreter. I wasn’t sure who I should be looking at. I’ve since gotten a bit more used to it. Second, I never know how fast to talk. I get caught up in watching the signs, and when I catch one I know, I realize how far behind the interpreter is, so I slow down. …or is he/she behind? There’s the backwards grammar to take into consideration too.
I didn’t have to deal with any of this until we moved to Ontario and Alex was enrolled in a Deaf school. Appalling anecdote, that was part of what actually led me to move:
It took about a year to finally have a speech and language pathologist visit Alex at school. It was a regular, English-speaking public school in the Province of Quebec. He had a wonderful EA working with him there, by the name of Lise. She was with him all the time. She spent her lunches tube feeding him and playing with him, and she actually came out of town to visit the Deaf school with me before we moved. Lise is hearing, however, and was at about the same level of American Sign Language I. We both knew it wasn’t enough for him to grow, so enter the speech therapist to advise on whether or not the school should fund an interpreter for him. The pathologist’s final assessment, after watching him in class a couple of times was that he couldn’t benefit from an interpreter, because at his current level of ASL, he wouldn’t understand the interpreter.
It’s like saying adults shouldn’t speak to hearing toddlers because they won’t understand anyway. How does one learn a language unless they are taught by someone who knows more, and is able to expand their vocabulary by example? And this from a woman whose job it was to teach language!
So we moved.
Since then, I’ve been muddling along, learning from what Alex brings home from school more than anything. We learned together, him by being exposed to ASL daily, and me from being exposed to my son. But we’re slowly getting back to needing an interpreter, and I don’t think it will be long before I have to have one at doctor’s appointments. He can now understand most things that are said in the adult world. At fifteen years of age he is still quite far behind mentally, but he’s a teenager. One of the most difficult things for me is knowing where his actual level of understanding lies. I have to rely on teachers for that. It’s like hosting a foreign student who I gave birth to, sometimes.
My A to Z theme concerns the joys and challenges of being the hearing mother of my Deaf son, Alex. To learn more about his beginnings in life, click here to go to my first A to Z entry.