Carrie is six years old. She is sitting at the dinner table with her family. She looks down at her Brussels sprout with absolute loathing. She isn’t going to eat it unless it’s forced down her throat.

She gazes around at her family members who are all in conversation. Mum is in an animated discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, fork in mouth, while he watches Sally do her job as principal on Home and Away. Her two brothers, Aden and Finlay, are discussing something loudly and obviously not agreeing. She looks at her brothers and uses the universal sign for “What’s up?” Palms facing upwards, elbows bent and a shrug of the shoulders. Finlay, with over-exaggerated lip movements, replies, “Tell you later,” while clumsily signing, “Tell you over”.

Carrie sighs and toys with the idea of trying to find out what the others are talking about. In the end she decides not to. She knows that the response from other family members will be the same as Finlay’s “tell you later.” She looks back down at her Brussels sprout. It suddenly becomes more appealing.

Carrie’s mother, Katie, watches her out of the corner of her eye. Like most mothers she can sense when something is not quite right with her children. She knows that Carrie is often isolated within the family at times like this when they are all chatting avidly. She is at loss as to what to do.

The family lives in a rural area. Services are few and far between. Just that day Katie had been in a meeting with her daughter’s school. She was trying to find some money to pay someone to teach her family Auslan. Katie felt that this, at least in part, would help make the family more inclusive for Carrie. She was handballed from one organisation to another and no-one seemed to want to take any responsibility. The family had learnt some rudimentary signs from a book and CD-Rom and Carrie had taken to signing like a fish to water.

She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.

Dinner over, the family retreats into the lounge room. Usually Carrie will sit on her father’s lap. She just likes his man smell and rough beard. The two of them cannot really communicate well. Bob, the dad, is impossible to lip-read and cannot find time in the day from work to learn to sign. This night Carrie does not sit on Bob’s lap. She finds a doll and sits on her own near the heater. She thinks of her day at school. She likes her doll. She and her doll can communicate without problems. She wishes her life could be just the same.

Carrie is mainstreamed into the local school. She communicates as best she can with her FM system. She has no support apart from her visiting teacher who comes every fortnight to offer advice to her teachers and 45 minutes of learning support to her. This morning she had been in class. The teacher had been reading a book. Carrie did not understand a lot of it but she loved the pictures. The story, this morning, involved an animal, or rather a hybrid of animals. The teacher showed a picture that was part wombat, part crocodile and part kangaroo. A Womcrocroo, the teacher had said it was.

Carrie understood none of this but she loved the picture. As soon as the teacher showed it to the class Carrie was on her feet pointing animatedly. She wanted to know what it was. The teacher told Carrie to sit down and that she would explain it to her later. Carrie was disappointed. She felt humiliated, frustrated and angry all at the same time. She let out a little scream of frustration. The teacher made her sit outside.

This memory is vivid in Carrie’s mind as she plays with her doll by the heater. She adds Ted and a few of her brothers’ Power Ranger toys to her play. The doll is the teacher and in Carrie’s perfect world everyone in the class can communicate. She asks and answers questions and she is an active member of her fantasy class. She smiles for the first time that day. In the background she catches a glimpse of her mother in deep discussion with her father. Her mother is crying again.

She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money.

Bob does not know what to do. He rarely has time to attend appointments about Carrie’s needs. The appointments are always in the day and the responsibility for them falls almost solely to his wife. She works part-time and he works long hours. His wife is crying. She is telling him about her latest appointment. She wants support to get the family communicating with Carrie.

She is frustrated at having to constantly justify herself to the people that have the money for support. She is angry that support is so sporadic in rural areas. Organisations from the city constantly haggle about time and money. She speaks of Auslan, isolation and language acquisition.

Half of this Bob does not really understand. Instead he listens and lets her vent. He wishes that there was more that he could do. He bemoans the fact that family support is so bloody family unfriendly. Why can’t they offer support at a time when all the family can take part? The appointments to meet support people are usually at 10 in the morning. At this time he is at work and the kids are at school. Pointless, really!

Carrie watches her mum cry. Although she does not know what her parents are talking about she knows they are talking about her. She has no words for how this makes her feel, but she feels anxious and worried. She does not quite understand why she has upset her mother so.

Her two brothers and her sister listen to their mother and father discussing Carrie AGAIN! They are resentful in some ways. Carrie always appears to be the centre of attention. They sometimes wonder if they exist at all. Carrie goes to bed. It has not been a good day at all.

It’s morning. The family are sitting at the breakfast table. Carrie’s mother is in deep discussion with her sister. Dad is typically silent, spoon in mouth and admiring the attractiveness of Mel on Sunrise . Aden and Finlay are discussing something loudly and still not agreeing. For Carrie the whole scene is strangely familiar. She looks at her doll sitting on the table and wonders what the day has in store for her …..

Children seldom misquote. In fact, they usually repeat word for word what you shouldn’t have said. ~Author Unknown

10 thoughts on “Carrie

  1. I read this and although I consider myself a “successful” deaf person I won’t gloat over it. I use my time to help/advocate for another deaf friend who may not be so fortunate.

    I read that story and was confronted with my own growing up years. Yes its true that we went through these experiences daily. Sometimes we understood what was happening and sometimes it takes two decade to work out something that was said for some reason it stuck in our minds. It just reaffirmed that we were bright kids, and worked so hard to please everyone else, we were just happy little machines with no humanistic traits. I grew up wanting to be the Six Million Dollar Man because he was part machine just like I felt I was. I didn’t always feel human, I felt like an alien, a misfit in society. I thought I was born on the wrong planet. The saddest thing is that I was made to do something that was not natural for me. I was forced to use a method whereby I would struggle to make sense of my world and the education was more of a puzzle than education itself. I was 12 years old before I learnt the aphabets and finally understood how to put words into aphabetical order. Everyone did that when they were in grade 3! At home, if something was annimated and interesting and I’d want to know… tell you later really meant just that… I didn’t know when later would happen. It never did. I always understood it to mean that was my bad luck, I didn’t try to listen hard enough, and it was none of my business. At 22 years of age, my mother confess that she wished she had learnt sign langauge we would have been able to communicate a bit better than guess work. Professionals at the time of age 3, advised my mother against it. I learnt Auslan after I turned 21… by about 28 I was fluent in Auslan. Carrie’s story mirrors that of mine. And that’s SAD. I think I commumicated far more successfully with my dog, cats and rabbits and later farm animals. At least they understood me far better than my hearing peers in the family and the wider community.

  2. This is a moving piece that calls for action. I hope it is read by everyone concerned with disability priorities and funding. I fear the pat answer with be “get her a cochlear implant,” judging by the claims made for an implant yesterday (Jorja)that hasn’t been shown even to work yet with speech.

  3. Hello all,

    I received this comment this morning. The person that submitted it did not leave a name. I thought to post it here. See below.

    ” ….I read your email this morning and I felt so, so deeply for all the Carries; all ages, colours, countries…..”

  4. Damn…that’s a very moving story. I am 39 years old and came from a hearing family where they all don’t sign and I am profoundly Deaf since from birth. I was educated in the suffering of oralism. I had been through with the family and my hearing friends’ typical attitude like “Tell you later” or “Don’t worry about it” after I asked them anything of was about.

    I first learnt the crappy sign language of Signed English when I was at the high school and then at the age of 16 years old, I became involved with the Deaf community when I played cricket and football with the Deaf. Then later I was selected in the Deaflymics games, 800m and 1500m runner. I was influent in AUSLAN at the age of 24. I finally have the ability to read of almost anything at the age of 25. My written English skills have been improving since I was 25 when Don Cresdee (he’s the PhD in AUSLAN) taught me the Grammar.

    I believe that I was very fortunate to be socialising with my old and current Deaf friends during the school’s recess, lunch time and after school days. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here to write or be involved the Deaf community.

    As for Carrie, I do hope that she and her family will get the support very soon. I am sure that my wife Anita (I will tell her about Cassie tonight) and I fell for this beautiful Deaf girl.

  5. Great article, hits a raw nerve for families of children with a disability in general also those with children who have no means of communicating.

  6. To read this story was somewhat difficult as I am hearing impaired myself. Having being diagnosed recently with a hearing loss I am starting to realize the changes in peoples’ attitude. Family and friends treat you as if you have suddenly obtained an intellectual disability. They call out to you then answer “oh she didn’t hear me” – so what do I do? – I ignore them, because I don’t want to hear them. My world has changed and I feel isolated, alone and unsure of what my future holds for me. Standing on “the other side of the fence – (now hearing impaired)” gives me an idea of how frustrating services are. People make promises they can’t keep – “I’ll tell you later”, seems to be a common phrase to me recently – which really means “I can’t be bothered taking the time to repeat.” I’m beginning to realize that I hate to bother people – if I need to use a FM system and it seems to “put people out”, then I too back away and say “oh, no it’s ok don’t worry – I’ll be alright”. I don’t want to be the centre of attention – I JUST WANT TO BE ABLE TO HEAR!


  7. Carrie’s story is typical in a lot of hearing families. I can clearly remember the frustruation and anger when I went deaf at 10 years of age. It was huge adjustment for a tiny child of 10 going from a “hearing” world to a fearful unknown world of deafness. Sitting at the dinner table for meals was my worst nightmare, my family at that time did not know what to do. I was always met with “it doesn’t matter” “it’s not important” “dont worry” or “I will tell you later” and later never comes. Growing up in a hearing world can be cruel as most of us deaf people know. I guess its just “fear” of not knowing how to communicate with a deaf person.
    I also feel for the hearing person in a family situation that has a deaf person within, they also exprience frusturation, guilt and anger, as the deaf person will sometimes rely on them to get the message through.
    We need more education, community awareness out there in the big wide hearing world.when faced with a deaf person they love just feel so helpless so on. Most parents of deaf children are not given a lot of options on issues faced rearing a deaf child. Communication is the number one priority, as they can be brainwashed by the so called medical world on this and that method of communicating, so things become confusing for everyone concerned.
    The shoe is on the other foot in my life now, Im the deaf parent, and my family consists of 4 hearing children and a deaf husband. Communication in my house is done via speech or auslan. I made sure when my kids were born that there were to be no communication issues faced in our family. I endeavoured to ensure they communicated right from the word go. So I guess communication in my household today is easier. I have captioned TVs, a TTY, a computer, sms, Fax, internet and so on.

    To all you hearing families of deaf children, pls get involved in the importance of communicating with your child, dont push them aside with “its not important” “tell you later” “dont worry” etc because I know that parents never get back to the child re a particular discussion.

    Many deaf people can relate to Carrie’s story, but each have their individual expriences of growing up in a hearing world.

  8. I am French and a student in Auslan. I have been reading a lot about the Deaf History. I am moved by those stories and I don’t understand how things like that can still happen nowadays. There are many Deaf organisations. When a kid is whether born deaf or deaf after an illness, I assume that h/she has been to an hospital and has been registered as so. Why there is no info given at the hospital? How and where are those organisations represented? They print flyers, why aren’t they distributed when needed. Why the hospital staff do not provide a list with the diagnosed- deaf persons’ names to Deaf organisations?
    Who does not do his job?
    I have another question: When a kid deaf from birth has no way of communication with hearing people, no signs he has been taught, what are his thoughts made of? Is it just only emotional feelings, images? Does my question make sense?
    thank you.

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