According to Isaac

download (1)I want to say something. My name is Isaac and I’m 13. I’m profoundly deaf and have a cochlear implant and a hearing aid.

Isaac happens to be deaf and have a cochlear implant. He posted recently to the Facebook discussion group called Aussie Deaf Kids.

Reading Isaac’s post took me back to my teenage years.  I was not strong nor assured as a teenager. I was struggling to come to terms with my deafness having become profoundly deaf a few years before. I was refusing to wear hearing aids. I was wagging school. I suffered anxiety.

I recall getting on the school bus and sitting right at the back everyday. I did this because one day I broke into a cold sweat. I was standing because the bus was full. I found myself anxiously looking over my shoulder and all around me. I feared that people were talking to me or about me and this led to a mini panic attack. The back of the bus allowed me to see everyone. It was my safe haven.

Isaac is just 13 years old. He is proudly proclaiming to the world that he is deaf and has a cochlear implant. I am in awe. It may seem just a small thing but such confidence and frankness is a rare thing. Kudos!

Over the dinner table last night my family were discussing a message my mum got from a lady who signs ( on FB) it made me sad.

Those wonderful dinner time conversations! For many deaf people from hearing families dinner time conversations can be isolating and lonely times. Over dinner family members share stories. They share what they see, what they hear, what they have discussed with peers and what they think. They share what others think and what what others have done. Through dinner time discussions so much is learnt. People’s minds are broadened and relationships are strengthened. Very often the deaf family member sits largely in silence, not involved and not considered.

Quite often it is the mother that acts as the interpreter for the deaf kid. I can well recall badgering my mother to tell me what my dad had said because he is a bugger to lipread and this still happens even today. Often the TV would be on as we ate our dinner in the lounge. I would be asking mum what was being said and what happened on the news. Mum was ever obliging.  On some days when she was tired or overwhelmed she would utter the dreaded words, “I’ll tell you later” There was nothing more dis-empowering nor frustrating than to hear those four words.

Never underestimate the power of family inclusion on the deaf child’s development. Isaac has it and its impact on his maturity and knowledge is there for everyone to see. He is very, very lucky.

I talk, I do not sign or wish to sign. I’m very happy and don’t feel lost in any world. I’m in the hearing world. I hear in class well. I do all the things my friends do and I can do that alone. I hear my mum call me from outside, I love music and singing and being with my friends, mostly all hearing.

Oh I remember the first time someone asked me if I knew sign language, I was mortified. I was with three friends and we were chatting at lunch.  One of the three friends asked me if I signed. I shook my head hurriedly and tried to change the subject. My friend was having none of it and began to try and teach me to finger spell. I got up and left.

Looking back the psychology of it all was simple. By acknowledging sign language I had to acknowledge my deafness. I had to acknowledge that I was different. As anyone will tell you, not fitting in during adolescence is the worst thing that can happen. Quite simply I was in denial.

Accepting my deafness took a long time. I was angry about being deaf for most of my adolescent years. I saw myself as a victim. Why me? I tried to avoid all things deaf. Wearing hearing aids was one. I would leave the batteries at home. They got over this by having batteries at school. So I would leave my aids at home. I would sabotage the ear molds by giving them to the dog to chew up. In the end my attempts to deny my deafness got so bad that I just stopped going to school. I would rather face the risk of getting in trouble for wagging than have to confront the issues of my deafness. Adolescence was not a happy time for me.

I wonder if for Isaac not wanting to sign is because he sees sign language as a weakness. Perhaps by giving in and learning sign language Issac must acknowledge his difference. By signing he is acknowledging that his deafness makes him different. Perhaps he is just proud of how well he copes in the ‘hearing world” and simply does not see signing as necessary. I think that, just maybe, there is a deeper reason that Isaac does not want to sign.

Only Isaac can answer that one.

“I’m not brainwashed, I’m living in my community.”

Very clearly Isaac has grown up with hearing values. Very clearly he is comfortable with these values. Brainwashed? What is Isaac referring to? I am not entirely sure but sometimes there are more militant Deaf people who believe that HEARING people are brainwashing deaf kids into thinking they are hearing. Sometimes these militant deaf people are there own worst enemy. They need to back off.

I hope that one day Isaac explores becoming involved with the Deaf community. The Deaf community can be a great place. Perhaps as Isaac gets older he will find it harder and harder to fully fit in with the hearing community. As deaf kids get older and mature they often find communication and fitting in with hearing people just a little bit more problematic. Big groups chatting. Lots of background noise. Dark bars and night clubs. Things change and often young deaf people like Isaac find that they become increasingly isolated. Trying to fit in and adapt can be soul destroying.

I don’t know Isaac personally. Every deaf person experiences life differently. He may grow up and blend in with the hearing world without a hitch. He may not. But after being involved with the Deaf community for nearly four decades and having seen how many young deaf people with cochlear implants seek out and become members of the Deaf community; I am pretty sure there are a few confronting social challenges and decisions that Isaac will face in the next few years.

Isaac, all I can say is keep your mind open to the possibility of learning sign language and being a part of the Deaf community – it has much to offer. There is no reason why you cannot be part of both Deaf and hearing worlds.

My mum and dad made the best ever choice for me having me implanted. I wish everyone can see how happy I am. I do really well at school and even do public speaking. I love telling people that deaf kids can speak, because some don’t get the chance to.

You are right Isaac. Your mum and dad made a brilliant decision. It has clearly benefited you and will continue to do so. You are bright, confident, intelligent and articulate. It is terrific to see. I can tell you that when the cochlear implant works well for young deaf kids, which is sadly not always the case, they develop great speech and great language.

I was 14 when I changed schools to attend a school with a deaf unit. I was shocked at the educational level of many of the deaf kids at my school. Many were virtually illiterate. Their behaviour was not age appropriate. They often did not understand even basic concepts. This was in the 70’s, before cochlear implants became wide spread.

I was puzzled as to why this was so. As I got older I set out to understand why so many deaf kids were like this. The tragedy for deaf kids in the past, and sometimes still today,  was not so much that they could not hear, it was the fact that not hearing and not having access to good sign language acquisition impacted so heavily on their language development. This impacted on their whole life. It impacted on their education. It consequently impacted on their ability to gain meaningful employment. It impacted on their ability to mature and deal with adult life. It was not pretty.

Since the cochlear implant has become more widespread I see less of these language deprived deaf kids. I see deaf kids with great language development. They are literate. They are achieving more at school. But, sadly, this is not the case for all of them and we need to acknowledge this.

Many of these kids with cochlear implants learn to sign at a very early age. Interestingly a friend of mine did some research on this. I believe she found that deaf kids with cochlear implants and who signed actually had better language development. Deaf kids with cochlear implants who had no access to sign language apparently spoke better, but their language development was not as good.

It is true that cochlear implants come with risks. Isaac’s parents and other parents of deaf kids know this. It must be gut wrenching to have to make a decision knowing these risks. But more often than not the risk pays off and Isaac is living proof of this. No parent should ever be made to feel guilty for deciding to implant their child. Sadly, there are still many Deaf militants that try to make parents feel guilty for implanting their children. Equally, there are Oral militants that try to make parents feel guilty for not having an implant and for choosing sign language for their child. It needs to stop!

Please listen to us kids too. I belong in my family and community.
Why don’t you ask me rather than assume you know how I feel.
I’m proud of who I am.

And that Isaac is so true. You have every right to make decisions as to what is best for you without pressure and emotional blackmail from militants.

We adults often assume that we know best. We all need to listen better and consider the views of young deaf people. I can tell you that people in the disability sector get fed up of non-disabled people making decisions about people with a disability over their heads. Nothing about us without us is the catch cry. I see no reason why this should not also be the case for young people who are deaf.

Isaac, I wish you all the very best for the journey you have ahead of you. Thank you for allowing me to share your post and respond to it.

Isaac’s post in full –

I want to say something. My name is Isaac and I’m 13. I’m profoundly deaf and have a cochlear implant and a hearing aid.

Over the dinner table last night my family were discussing a message my mum got from a lady who signs ( on FB) it made me sad.

I talk, I do not sign or wish to sign. I’m very happy and don’t feel lost in any world,I’m in the hearing world. I hear in class well, I do all the things my friends do and I can do that alone. I hear my mum call me from outside, I love music and singing and being with my friends, mostly all hearing. I’m not brainwashed, I’m living in my community.

My mum and dad made the best ever choice for me having me implanted. I wish everyone can see how happy I am. I do really well at school and even do public speaking. I love telling people that deaf kids can speak, because some don’t get the chance to.

Please listen to us kids too. I belong in my family and community.
Why don’t you ask me rather than assume you know how I feel.
I’m proud of who I am.








9 thoughts on “According to Isaac

  1. Hi…it was a good read. ..thank you…I am very curious though, as to why there has to be the the term “deaf community”. That in itself creates some sort of separation from everyone else. I just dont understand it and would love an explanation as to why.

    • I guess cos there is one …. Like an Italian community … They just get together and share a common purpose Nd language.

      I like diversity and as long as. Communities of all types are accepting and welcoming it is a good thing ..

      As an example I play FutsL with the Deaf … They play fortnightly .. my hearing sons play and its open to all … That is how it should be … No divide needed 😀

      • Ok..that makes sense…lol…too easy….I home school and Ive never thought about it before but I say home schooling community.. so there you go…:-)

    • I will add my daughter has progressive hearing loss, at 14 she chooses not to wear her hearing aid. She doesn’t go to school…my kids are home educated for other health reasons. And she doesnt’s a very difficult thing for her to learn, having dyspraxia, which inhibits her ability to manipulate her hands and fingers well, and orgabiae her movements, having suffered a stroke. Though she has recently shown interest in learning Auslan.

  2. I’ve spoken to Isaac and he wants to clarify a few points- I’m keeping him off FB now, as he’s had his say and I need to make sure he’s protected.😊
    1. He was only sad over the dinner table because of the nature of what was said on FB to me, this is where the “brainwashing” comment came from.We as patents were accused of brainwashing him against sign.
    2. We always stop a conversation with any of our children to explain what we said or the content of what was said. Isaac is the youngest of four so sometimes the content is more confusing than the access of sound. Uni students do that to you!
    3. He doesn’t sign because,and only because he doesn’t need too. He’s not afraid or feels vulnerable, not at all he’s a very capable young man, who actually has addressed politicians and is happy to get up and speak his mind. He’s never been afraid to use his voice or words.
    I’m training a man in my work place ( our choice to help him as he cannot get a job) he fully communicates by Auslan , (with and interpreter) we have a bit of fun as we both learn, so I’m becoming familiar with a few signs. I try to teach Isaac one or two each week to expose him to what’s happening .He try’s them and says oh ok that’s makes sense, or that’s a weird sign & that’s it. He’s just not interested too busy with life.He loves to hear and talk, even in his sleep he talks.
    4. He accepts he’s deaf, always will be, he knows a CI isn’t a cure, but it gives him really good sound. He’s been exposed to huge groups and lots of noise since he was implanted. He often attends a youth group and has been involved in different environments from the start, he’s learnt to hear in all situations.
    5. He is deaf, he drops in his good ear 90db rapidly down to 120, he (has residual hearing in the implanted ear), he wears a hearing aid as well as it accesses good sound so he can process the CI sound and natural sound and it gives him a very good picture. He hears well,he can tell the difference between a sharp and a flat on his violin – and that’s not easy for a hearing person.
    So, an open mind goes both ways.
    Technology has opened the world of sound more and more, even his latest processor is vastly different to his last. He can hear in the pool, in the shower, it’s just becoming more and more open.
    Happy to clarify any other points if anyone wants to ask..
    He really is an amazing young man, we are proud a gift from God!

    • Hi Mel and Isaac,

      I’d just like to say your comments resonate with me greatly. I am also profoundly deaf (since birth) and have a CI and I am proud of who I am. Like you Isaac, I have accepted my deafness and accepted that while my CI is not a cure, it does a pretty damn good job. Sure, we do experience minor adversity such as lack of closed captioning, difficulties hearing on the phone etc, but the benefits of hearing far outweigh these negatives.

      I also do not need Auslan. I lead a happy and fulfilling life without it. I enjoy meeting new people every day and hearing their life stories. I am currently completing my PhD at a university with over 30,000 students and staff, and I only know two people here that use Auslan. I decided to learn Auslan so I could communicate with them. However, the first class (delivered by a Deaf instructor) was on Deafhood and he mentioned how CIs and hearing aids are evil. As such, he politicised Auslan, which was completely irrelevant and unnecessary in introductory Auslan classes, and this has effectively put me off from learning Auslan again.

      The Deaf community often say the same unfounded claims that deaf people in the hearing community experience social isolation and mental health issues because we “reject our true identity as a Deaf person”. But where’s the evidence? There isn’t any. Recent academic literature strongly suggests that CI users are happy with who they are and confident with their identity as a hearing person, and do not resent their parents for making the decision to implant them on their behalf (for those that need to see the evidence, see the following peer-reviewed academic articles – ‘Wheeler, Archbold, Gregory and Skipp, 2007’, ‘McIlory and Storbeck, 2011’ ‘Kunnen, 2014’ and ‘Snell, 2015’). I also don’t believe that “it’s the human right of the deaf child to sign”. Identities are socially constructed (ie. we are not born with an identity, it is shaped by our family, language, education, friends etc) – just because we are born physically deaf doesn’t mean we automatically have to assume a culturally deaf identity. Particularly as technology has done wonders for us to participate confidently, and happily, in the hearing community – why deny a child that!

      I say rock on, Isaac! You are an amazing person and a great role model for the many other deaf kids out there who are proud and confident being a deaf person in the hearing community!

      • I’m so sorry you had to deal with that crap when u went to learn Auslan.It’s certainly not the common view of most Deaf community members.

        However,there is much research that suggests that mental health issues are higher among people who are deaf. Just Google it and you will see.

        Mostly related to social isolation leading to depression and anxiety which can lead to related issues like substance abuse. But it doesn’t happen because someone doesn’t join the Deaf community. That said, a strong social network does help.

        Don’t misjudge the Deaf community because of the attitude of a few misinformed militants. As I said to Isaac there are many good things about the Deaf community and don’t discount it as an option.

        But for sure those militants are more trouble than they are worth sometimes.

  3. As the mother of a profoundly deaf man I totally get how isolating it can be within the family and am always trying to include my son in the conversation.
    Some signing as well as aural for implantees makes sense particularly if their parents are deaf

  4. I just wanted to write that I feel privileged as a hearing person to have learned Auslan, and to have friends and colleagues in the signing Deaf community. It saddens me to see comments like ‘X doesn’t need Auslan’. I’m hearing, but I’m grateful to be multilingual in English, French, Auslan, BSL and to know a little ASL – I guess I don’t ‘need’ any other language than English, but what a gift it is to know more than one language and to see the world from different perspectives. I absolutely respect people’s choices, and I agree that there is misinformation on both sides of the debate, both about deaf people with CIs who choose to use English as their primary means of communication, and about those in the signing Deaf community who choose Auslan. I guess what I would like to see is the OPPORTUNITY for every deaf child to learn Auslan as well as English. There’s a lot of research suggesting individuals gain all sorts of cognitive benefits from bilingualism and multilingualism after all, so there is no reason to fret about notions of ‘choice’ as no choice between English and Auslan needs to be made – deaf children can have both.

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