Adopting a Deaf Child: Meet Levi

Number 1

If you see my family, three things stand out immediately:

  • We are a bi-racial family. (My husband is Caucasian, I am
    Mexican, and our kids are Ethiopian.) 
  • My husband and I are in our mid-twenties and have a teenager and a nine-year
    old.
  • My 14-year old son is profoundly deaf
    and we use American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate.

Number 2My son Levi is Deaf. And he's also a normal teen. He's
growing like a weed (soon he will be eye level with me *sigh*), he eats like a
horse, and he loves basketball, soccer, movies, pizza, his friends, and
cell phones. He has a smile that lights up everything around him, and a love
for Jesus that shines right through him. He talks (signs) non-stop.

And six months ago, he had a vocabulary of 25 signs. 

Levi grew up in Ethiopia with no education and no formal language. I mean,
NONE. Can you imagine being locked inside yourself in a world of silence? Not
being able to communicate with others? Not being able to tell them how you feel
or what you want? Not understanding what people want of you? Not understanding
when people laugh at a joke? Not knowing your siblings' names? That's just part
of what Levi lived with for 14 years. And it's a wonder he didn't lose his mind
and become a frustrated, violent mess. And probably why he signs 24/7 now.

Number 3

When we met Levi on our court trip, he had about 25
“home signs”, which are signs he had invented as a system of
communicating with his caretakers and friends. He had just started going to a
deaf school in Addis, and was learning some Ethiopian sign language. Between
learning Levi's home signs, teaching him some of ours (I am an
ASL-English interpreter), and gesturing, the three of us were able to
communicate at a basic level immediately.

When Levi and Zahria (his biological sister) came home in November, 2012, they
could not communicate with each other at all. Six months later, I couldn't get
them to stop talking (signing) if I tried. Zahria actually said the other
day: “Mommy, before in Ethiopia, me and Levi no can talk. None. Me don't
know him. Now us talk all da time!!!” Here is a video of them: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RDNx47pXv8 

By the world's standards, Levi is “disabled.” “Disabled” implies that
something is wrong with him. I don't consider him disabled; he just can't
hear. He functions as a normal teenager and basically the only differences are
that we use ASL to communicate, and we need interpreters for public events,
appointments, etc. Minor adjustments are also that instead of
calling Levi's name to get his attention, we wave, or tap him on the
shoulder, or flash a light switch so that he turns to face us.

Number 4

Maybe right about now you're thinking, “Hey Marissa,
that's cool that you know ASL and have a Deaf son, but I don't know any
sign language and that's scary!”

It's totally scary! But it's okay! Not knowing sign
language should NOT stop you from considering a deaf child. While both
parents knowing ASL would be ideal, it's not the only option. If you are truly
willing to learn to sign and communicate with your deaf child, and provide them
the resources where THEY can learn to sign or communicate with their mode of
preference (sign, sign and speech, oral only, etc.), then perfection doesn't
matter. Effort and willingness are the keys. 90% of deaf children are born
to hearing parents and those parents didn't know sign when their kids were
born. You can do this!

Not all deaf people are the same. That seems obvious, but
what I mean is that deaf people do not all identify themselves the
same, and they use different modes of communication, depending on their personal
preference. The two main categories are: Deaf (viewing themselves as a cultural
minority and using American Sign Language to communicate), and hard-of-hearing
or hearing impaired (using spoken English and or a mixture of spoken
and signed English or ASL). People with a cultural view use a capital
“D” to define themselves as Deaf. Deaf/hard-of-hearing people also
have a range of hearing loss. Levi is 80 and 90db. Basically, a rock concert
sounds like a whisper to him.

There are lots of resources for families with deaf children,
although they vary depending on the area. Each state typically has one
school for the deaf, and that would be the best place to get resources in your
specific area. Schools for the deaf typically provide sign language classes, a
schedule of deaf events in their area, audiology and speech therapy, hearing
aid repairs and resources, sports/recreation, as well as education in a
signed environment. Example: www.rsdeaf.org

Number 6

Another resource for communication between Deaf and
hearing individuals is a videophone. If I am away from the house, I could call
Levi on my phone, using a video relay service with interpreters. www.sorensonvrs.com

There are also multiple online stores that sell devices
such as flashing doorbells and vibrating alarm clocks, and other devices
designed for deaf/hard-of-hearing people. http://store.hdscenter.org/ 

Language resources are available too, with websites showing
videos of single signs and concepts in ASL (although they do not teach sentence
structure, syntax, or grammar). I also have a YouTube page where I post videos
of specific signs to help our family communicate with Levi.

ASL Dictionary: www.aslpro.com

ASL Dictionary: www.lifeprint.com

My YouTube page: http://www.youtube.com/user/SignLanguageBasics

If you are considering a deaf child, or just want to
ask questions, please feel free to email me at marissa.fiddle@gmail.com. I would
love to talk with you!

-Marissa Ruper

Number 7

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