Life With a Deaf Child

After parenting three biological children for the past almost 12 years and now parenting two adopted toddlers for 4 months (seems like so much longer than that), I've begun to make some observations in comparing the two.

More than the "adopted" difference, I see a difference in how we parent Travis since he's completely deaf.  Here are a few things that I've noted as different from how I parented my first three and even how I parent Tian.

Crying for seemingly no reason.
In the beginning, Tian did this now and then, mostly in the middle of his nap or at bed time.  Those episodes quickly stopped, though.  Now he cries when most kids cry: when he's hurt or when he's not getting his way.
Travis will still cry sometimes when we have no clue what he wants.  He will be pointing and crying, but we can't figure out what it is he wants.  He's perfectly able to tell us he wants water or milk. He can tell us "No, I don't want that" when we offer him something.  He can tell us he sees someone crying and is sad.  He can ask where his airplane went.  He can tell us what clothes he prefers to wear, that he wants to go outside to play, that he thinks he's funny, that he wants to color, that he wants a towel to dry off his face, that he wants a kiss, a hug, or that he loves us.  When we leave, he can tell us he'll see us soon.  If there is something he can't express, he's pretty good at leading us to it so that we can understand then teach him the sign for it.

But there is still an inability to communicate everything.  At this point, neither of the boys can express everything they are thinking.  Partially because of their age (especially Tian, being just 28 months), but also somewhat due to lack of language for Travis.  Because of the language gap, which happens to be closing very quickly, we still have a few moments now and then when we simply can't figure out what Travis wants or is upset about.  Thanks to American Sign Language, though, these occurrences are few and far between.

Using voice as a soother.
I didn't realize how often I used my voice as a soother for the kids.  I will say in a soft, sing-song voice, "It's okay. Mommy is here."  I can use that voice to calm a hearing child even when I'm out of their sight, such as when they are in their car seat and I'm driving, or when I'm taking a moment to put down my books and papers to make my way into their room when I hear them crying.  Travis loses those auditory cues, so I find ways to make them visual.

Facial expression.
A furrowed brow of concern may look a lot like the furrowed brow of anger. I figured that out the first time I checked to see if Travis was okay 1after he accidentally rammed his head into Hannah's nose.   Along those same lines, my smiling face saying in a sing-song voice, "Time to come inside!" can lead Travis to believe I'm just playing and don't really mean it.  I've had to pay close attention to my facial expression and give more thought to what he is seeing minus sound.

Getting face-to-face contact.
This is the big one.  When Travis doesn't like what I'm telling him, he just turns his head to the side, looking away.  I lead his chin back toward me and he rolls his eyes as far off to the side as possible.  I move over into his line of vision and he looks off the other way.  When I'm correcting him or giving him an instruction or warning, I have to slow down, decide it may take a few extra seconds of my life, and deal with it.  He's figured out that I can wait out his attempts to ignore me, so it doesn't usually take more than several seconds to get him to look at me long enough to finish a thought.  Often, though, it looks like this:
"Travis, look at Mom....Push.."
Travis looks away.
"Push Tian."
He turns again. I cup his chin in my hand, helping him stay focused.
"Push Tian. No...Not.."
He turns again. I lean into his line of vision. He cries.
Once he's finished fussing a little, I get his attention back.
"Push. Not nice. Tell Tian..."
More beaking eye gaze. More directing of the head.
"Tell Tian sorry."

Whew!  I don't see how parents who have deaf kids, but don't know ASL manage.  I assume they must have angry kids and they must be stressed out themselves.  The process I described above really doesn't stress me out.  (Trust me, there are plenty of things that do!)  I just sit there and think about Ken and all the stories his mom, aunts and grandma have told about how he would sit down and shut his eyes when he didn't want to "listen."  Ken came through it a good kid and so will his son.

Reading books.
As toddlers, my three birth kids were voracious book-listeners.  From infancy, I would read to them.  When they were old enough to walk, they would go grab a book and run, diaper making that "swooshing" diaper sound as they ran to me, book in hand, then would climb up on the couch for me to read a story.  I can't say for sure it's a Deaf thing, because neither of the littles can sit long enough to get through an entire story.  Tian did sit through The Napping House the other day, but that's the only story book he's tolerated in four months.  Travis won't tolerate more than one or two pages of a story book, if even that.  He loves to sit and look at books on his own terms.  He adores picture books and wants us to teach him signs for everything he sees.  But story books?  No way.  Not happening.  (Sometime soon, I'll post a blog and video showing how we interact with books with Travis.)  I know the day will come when they will both like being read to, but that time is not now.

It's a joy to be rearing all five of my kids.  Each of them bring their own challenges.  I consider it a privilege to be Mom to all of them, Deaf, hearing, and in between.


  1. What a wonderful example of a mother you are! I wish I could say I am that patient with my own child!

  2. My late mom told me at one time when I was a young girl (not sure what I age I was) I had a screaming fit, and she couldn't figure out what I was upset about (that was the time I didn't know sign language, neither did my mom). Another time, I was a young girl around 10-12 years old that when it was time to get out of the swimming pool, she often get frustrated with me because all I did was close my eyes and turn my head the other way so I would not be able lip read her because I wanted to keep swimming. When she told me this a few years ago, I had a good laugh about it. I don't even remember any of this.

  3. Interesting that your youngest interact differently with books. I guess it just shows that all kids are different.

    My hearing impaired son, as a toddler, would hardly sit still long enough to be read to either. I used to have to put him in the play yard and lie on the floor, close enough so he could see the pages. Even learning to read was not a typical experience either: he absolutely refused to sound out syllables but rather would wait until he had the whole word figured out in his head and then just say it all at once.

    Hope your kiddos grow up loving books in their own way.

  4. Don't know if you are still reading comments this far back but just came across your blog and am so grateful for it!

    I'm an interpreter thinking about adoption and reading about and seeing your family's experience has renewed my interest in adopting from China. I do worry about a deaf child being left out in a hearing extended family but that is another story.

    I'm a voracious reader and I was very worried when my hearing niece was not very interested in being read to as a one/two/and into three-year-old. She would initially show interest in a book but then just didn't seem to have the attention span for it. She just turned four and she now LOVES being read to. Over and over again! So, all kids are just different I guess and proceeding on their own schedule. Your boys are so lucky to have ended up in a family with so much access to language and communication.

    Best wishes. :)


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