CODAS. Children of Deaf Adults. There are deaf CODAS and hearing CODAS. Some can sign, some cannot. Some love having deaf parents. Some struggle while others may simply hate it. CODAS are a special and tough bunch.
My three boys are CODAS. They do not fully appreciate how they are part of a large network of CODAs worldwide. Only recently have I begun talking about it. I explain to them that just as the Deaf community share many experiences and history that binds them together, so do CODAS. To them, they are just the Kerridge boys who love soccer, PlayStation games and their AFL. Oh, and that they have deaf parents. It is an afterthought for them, most of the time.
Afterthought or not, they do have their fair share of issues being CODAs. A thing like going to the movies with their parents is not possible. We cannot access the local cinema due to lack of captions. Taking part in their school assemblies and soccer presentations is difficult without interpreters. They are aware that we cannot fully be a part of the experience although we all try our best.
The good times are plentiful though. We are like any other family. We have our fights, our laughs, our tears, our hugs. The boys have enjoyed experiencing the Australian Deaf Games. They have been part of a wider and rich fabric that is the Deaf community and met many wonderful people this way. They have met international Deaf people. They have seen a community at work and their mother and father working within that community to keep it existing vibrant and alive. They have an appreciation of the struggles and reward that come with being deaf. They co-exist easily in both the deaf and hearing communities. They really do have the best of both worlds.
But recently I saw the ugly side of being a CODA. I saw my 14 year old son reduced to tears. I saw the confused and hurt look on my 12 year old child’s face. My youngest son aged 10 slumped his shoulders in a defensive stance and scowled. My two youngest boys’ soccer coach had deliberately targeted my three boys to say offensive things about us, their parents, knowing full well we were deaf and could not defend ourselves if we did not hear him. He also counted on his position of authority to keep the boys from standing up to him.
It hit home to me. Life for kids who have deaf parents must be bloody hard work sometimes. It must hurt like hell hearing comments made by others about their parents. Comments made deliberately in the knowledge that their parents can’t hear them. But they never think of the kids and what they hear. Or do they? Perhaps it is a deliberate knife in the back for the kids.
People just say things without thinking. They may think it is just a joke but when CODAs hear these comments it can be shattering.
“Bloody deaf people”.
“Can’t talk properly.”
“Hope you don’t play soccer like your father.”
“Stupid family – always late for soccer.” (When in fact we had been the fourth family out of a possible ten or twelve families to arrive).
Comments made in the vicinity of my children. Comments made deliberately towards my children. Comments designed to maim and hurt. Comments made when neither of us were there, or were looking away. These are acts of a true coward. Bullies are often cowards. The coach was and is a bully.
How often do our kids try to protect us? How often does this happen? I hope that it is far and few between but it must happen more than we think sometimes. What of schoolyard taunts? There are comments that demonstrate people’s misunderstandings and lack of compassion. CODAs hear it all and many bear it silently. We tell the boys to share anything they hear with us. It is not their burden. We show them that we have thick skin and shrug off the taunts.
We try to lead by example. Sometimes though, a more proactive and aggressive approach is called for. We confronted the soccer coach and asked him to direct his comments to us at all times. He was definitely uncomfortable. It was not a pleasant experience and some angry and choice words were said by me and by my husband. It was not our finest hour but we defended our children. We defended our CODAs and asked that they be allowed to be children and not a target for the coach’s dislike of us and ignorance of our deafness.
Go to your kids. Hug them. Love them. Know that they have bad times. Know that people out there can be cruel. Show them that you will stand up for them. Remind them that for every idiot out there, there are ten wonderful people they will meet. Make sure they don’t see being a CODA a burden, but a life experience that has its bumps in the road. A life that is mostly positive. Most of all, show them that they are not alone.
I know many CODAs. Many are good friends. Many I know through interpreting for me. Others through connections to deaf sport. Some are children of my Deaf friends.
My children are CODAs. Gary and I have worked hard to try and minimise any responsibility they might feel in having deaf parents. We have heard from others how they had to interpret for their parents growing up, how they grew up too soon, how they shouldered more responsibility.
In the age of the NRS and access to qualified interpreters, mobile text messaging amongst other things, there just is not any reason to subject our children to being our communicators. Despite our best efforts sometimes, we do fall into that trap. The phone rings and it is not a text based call. The boys have to answer it.
I might be talking to someone at the shop and not understand a particular phrase. Sometimes the boys step in. It is not ideal and we try to minimise it. They should be children and not taking on any extra responsibility just because we are deaf.
I have always known that by being Deaf, my kids will receive their fair share of discrimination and teasing. When I was teaching at my boys’ primary school as a Teacher of the Deaf and Auslan LOTE teacher, the students would mock my signing and speech at times. I would shrug it off and encourage my boys to do the same. Such hurtful and ignorant behaviour I would expect from children but not from adults.
Unfortunately such an event did happen and from an adult. This is an incident that hit close to home for me. Many Deaf/deaf parents will share my pain. Many CODAs will nod their heads and perhaps add to our experiences. Straddling the divide between the Deaf and hearing worlds is never easy, especially when some people are just downright ignorant and unpleasant about it.
On a more positive note however, CODAs are working together in Australia and overseas to recognise the uniqueness of their group and heritage. In Australia, the CODA Australia organisation has been organising the KODA camp. A camp in Sydney was held with much success for kids between 10 to 16 years old. Each of those kids were CODAs.
Just imagine how fantastic it is for these CODAs to meet each other. More importantly, they meet older role models. People who are CODAs themselves and can identify with the kids with the similiarites in their lives.
We all know how important it is for Deaf kids to meet other Deaf role models so they can get an idea of how their lives and hopes can pan out. It is no different for CODAS. Some of their experiences are different from their regular hearing peers. Some things they cannot explain or share with their friends. This is where knowing older CODAs and having role models is beneficial. They know they are not alone and that others, like my boys did, have experienced hurtful taunts and comments.
The Queensland camp is being held on the 24th to 26th June. The Victorian Camp is from the 1st to 3rd July. Get your child involved if he or she is a CODA. Check out CODA Australia’s website on:
Even if you can’t make the camps, try and keep in touch with this website and any events that your child might enjoy. After my children’s experiences, I am very aware how important CODAs will be and are to their lives. Some experiences they simply cannot share with non-CODAs and their Deaf parents.
I mentioned before that I am a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). I was born a CODA, I’ll die a CODA, and the life I’ve lived in between has been largely defined by the fact that I am a CODA.
And I LOVE it!