Our Son, Brian, Who is Deaf, is a Blessing!
By Gordon and Laura Peet
82306 N. Bear Creek Rd. Creswell, OR 97426-9429 GLPeet@centurytel.net
We homeschool all our children Shannon 16; Brian 13 deaf, Kevin 10; Megan 5; Nathan 2. Baby Justin was stillborn March 16, 2000 with Trisomy 18. I carried him full term (knowing he had the condition) and would be blessed to minister to others who are pregnant with babies with known birth defects, or who homeschool deaf children.
Our son, Brian, loves playing soccer, reading mysteries and the Lord. One difficulty we experience is increased pressure from the teachers for hearing impaired to put him in the deaf school for high school. (He is now in 7th grade). He would have to live away from home. We are seeking God's leading as to what would be best for Brian. His needs are different from those of our other children. He is a wonderful son and brother and we sure would miss him if he were away Monday- Friday.
Homeschooling a deaf child varies from family to family just like homeschooling any child would. Each family needs to listen to the Lord for the techniques and methods, schedules, responsibilities and expectations to include in your homeschool. God will direct you as to what you should strive to build into your childrenís lives. What works for us may not be right for you. But perhaps learning about Brian may be helpful to you in some way.
I would say the first step to homeschooling a deaf child is to build the communication to a level where you can converse about anything you would talk with your other children about. We started signing with Brian when he was 2, before he was formally diagnosed as hearing-impaired, because he had no language and was constantly frustrated and angry. Our first signs were learned a few at a time in a parent-toddler program at a hearing and speech center. After Brian outgrew this program we took night classes at a local community college, picked the brains of local deaf people and interpreters that we met, invested in a TV and VCR and some video sign language teaching series,, and bought several sign language dictionaries. Before Brian knew much sign language I took photographs of all our daily activities, of people we might visit and of places we might go, and put them in order each day to show him the schedule. This helped him a lot. Do whatever it takes to learn to communicate, whether it be through sign (which I highly recommend), cued speech, or any other method.
Encourage your whole family to sign as much as possible, if they are willing. The older sister and younger brother closest in age to Brian sign quite a lot because they were learning with us from the beginning. However his 5 year old sister doesnít sign much, because Brian (age 13 now) has become quite verbal and always talks to her. Now he is trying to teach her to sign. On the other hand our 2 year old, whose hearing is normal, is a late talker and signs at least as much as he talks. He loves Brian and spends a lot of time playing soccer with him, so he picks up signs easily.
We have also taught beginning sign language classes to our homeschool group and at church, but most people never go beyond the beginner stage so they canít really converse with Brian. Several relatives have learned to sign on a basic level. One of the advantages of homeschooling Brian is that we are forced to keep developing our signing skills. He is old enough now to remind us when we need to improve our signing, or to learn signs for a new area of interest. Probably one of his biggest current frustrations with our family is that we do not sign enough of our conversations. We sign to him but not much among ourselves. Brian would prefer us to sign everything. Signing is definitely a second language to us, not something that comes naturally. We do not understand deaf adults who sign rapidly, although we keep trying. We request interpreters for events for children sponsored by the local library, which exposes Brian to various language models. He has also attended a day camp for deaf children for many years for a week or two in the summer.
After Brian grew too old for the parent-toddler program at the clinic, a preschool for hearing impaired children opened in the area. He attended for two years and gained good pre-reading skills plus developed his language. We also had a home teacher come once a month to help us with his speech awareness, and we had a daughter who prayed every night that Brian would learn to talk. All these influences helped Brian to develop sign language (speech came much later), and greatly lessened his frustration level, thus reducing his frequent tantrums. Most of his unusual behaviors that had made professionals suspect autism faded away as he learned to communicate.
By the time Brian had finished deaf preschool, two years of mainstream kindergarten with an interpreter, and 2 or 3 years of elementary school, we had learned of homeschooling and felt God was calling our family to that lifestyle. I was home with our daughter (2 years older than Brian) and a new baby, but Brian was still in school. He got more and more stomach aches in the morning before school and he missed a lot of days (24 one year) with respiratory illnesses. He was falling hopelessly behind in certain skills as the teacher kept going whether the kids "got it" or not. He kept learning of things we did at home, or in town while he was in school, and although he liked seeing his few deaf friends every day, he started asking to stay home so he wouldnít be left out of family activities. The Lord started speaking to our hearts to say, "Brian is your responsibility just as much as the other kids are. You can teach him. You know him better than anyone else, and you care more than anyone else whether or not he succeeds in life--with My definition of success, not the governmentís." Finally we had the courage to keep him home, and he has homeschooled for about four years now.
It has not been too hard to work with the school as far as the IEP the state requires, but I still feel threatened by the meetings. We basically just have an IEP for language development because I wanted Brian to have speech therapy through our local district. I think we are the first family in the area to homeschool a special education student, and I had to research the state requirements and inform the district. One thing that they required was for him to be evaluated yearly by a multi-disciplinary team of teachers, principal, or anyone else the school district wanted to come up with. Then the team sent a letter to the Education Service District of the county saying he was making satisfactory progress. The speech teacher would report on his progress in speech from their twice-a- week times together. Also, Brian goes once a week to the city nearby for a Deaf Club held at the school he attended previously, in order to be with other deaf kids. The teacher of that club came to the meetings. But others in the meetings had never even met Brian, and they were putting their stamp of approval on his learning efforts. How could they evaluate his progress? We ended up doing traditional testing with California Achievement Test such as was required for all homeschoolers in our state, and taking the results to the meeting to show his progress. Last year I called the ESD to talk about this, and they told me that labeling a homeschooler as "special education" was optional anyway. Since Brian is capable of taking the CAT test and indeed had been taking it anyway, I removed the special ed designation from his ESD form this past spring. Now the Oregon laws are changed and testing is not required every year, so Brian will not be required to test this year. I may do it anyway to see how he has progressed, but really I know what he knows without the tests. However, changing the homeschool forms did not change the need of the school to hold IEP meetings for his speech therapy and to discuss other placement options. His form for them ended up with a lot of "parent refused services--is homeschooling" comments.
Brian is a very good reader which has helped a lot in his education. He got a good start in public school in this area, plus we are a reading family which helps him. We have found that if I read aloud to the other children, it is too hard to sign at the same time to Brian. So he sits beside me and I hold a bookmark under each line as I read it and he reads it silently. It is awkward but that way he doesnít feel left out, and I can quiz the kids on the material together. We use a closed-caption decoder (built into newer TVís or available separately) so he can read the educational videos we watch.
A source for a wide variety of educational open-captioned videos is the governmentís Captioned Media Program. Deaf people borrow videos through the mail for free. We have used many of their videos to learn signs for various areas such as math, English (grammar) and religion, as well as learning actual subject matter. It helps your teaching if you know appropriate signs and use them as much a possible in everyday life. Hearing kids have heard mathematical terms long before they are ever expected to do math (or words for history, or whatever you are teaching).
One area Brian is weak in is math. Numbers do not stick in his head. He has finally (at age 13) learned his multiplication tables to earn the reward of going out to dinner alone with me. (With four siblings, that is a special treat.) I donít know if he is weak in math because I am lousy at being consistent at making him study it, or because he is deaf, or if he takes after his older sister. (He doesnít take after his dad or me--we both did well in math.) What I have found helps him is to focus on one skill at a time, rather than the usual math book approach of a little addition, a little measuring, a little work with fractions, then back to addition, then to multiplication, etc. We will keep working on multiplication until he is sure he can do it well. Then he will feel ready to move on to the next skill (with occasional review). He is behind the standard level for his grade (7th) but hopefully he will progress and wonít be too frustrated to keep trying. I teach math with a variety of resources, especially games. We also have a wide variety of math software, most which a deaf child can use independently.
Brian is also very weak in spelling and sentence construction. However, he is making progress because of a desire to write letters to his Grandma and to write stories and cartoons on his own. I donít think learning lists of words has helped him much at all, so we donít do it any more. (We are quite "real-life experience" oriented in our education.) He does care that his writing is correct, so he asks me for the spelling, or looks words up. The more he reads and the more he writes, the more words he is spelling right. Itís not easy to spell when you canít hear all the sounds of a word. I do require Brian to do a page or two in a grammar book each day (when we arenít too involved in other things to remember) but at a much lower grade level. This exposes him to the terms of English, and he is beginning to notice when subject and verb donít agree, or if a wrong tense is used. Most deaf people donít ever learn to read beyond a fourth-grade reading level. Brian is already way beyond that, so I think the grammar and word usage will come, although delayed.
I like to emphasize strengths instead of always focusing on shoring up weaknesses. Brianís three strongest areas are his spiritual life, which is a joy to watch unfold, his love of drawing, and his love of soccer. These three areas give him a sense of identity beyond that of always being "the deaf kid". He calls himself "soccer boy", and has played for several area teams. His dad interprets for him which gives them time together. The other boys have been fairly accepting of him and he has made friends. He would like to be the first deaf pro soccer player some day.
On his own he has recently started some cartoon strips for the family and I have been amazed at his ideas and at his drawing skill. I am not yet sure whether to let him keep developing this skill on his own (he reads a lot of drawing and cartooning books and tries to incorporate their techniques into his work), or to sign him up for a weekly class with an artist who teaches very homeschool-friendly classes.
Brian has accepted Christ as his Savior and was baptized by his daddy. At the church we attend, Brian is the only deaf person. Gordon or I interpret for him, and he signs most of the songs with us. He is getting to the age where he wants to "hear" the sermon occasionally as well, so we are stretching our signing skills again. We used to have a deaf church in the area where we would take him every month or two, but it closed down when the pastor moved. Now we occasionally visit the one church in the area that has an interpreter and 15-20 deaf adults. When we travel, we look for churches that have a deaf ministry.
We recently attended the memorial services for an elderly Christian deaf couple who died within two months of each other. Brian has had a fear of heaven (really a fear of death) for a long time, and said one of these services helped him to understand that going to heaven is like opening a gate and going into a wonderful place. Brian has a burden to share the Lord with the deaf kids he knows, but he is fearful because he has so few kids he can communicate with and doesnít want them to not like him. (I remember the same fear as a kid, and I could communicate with everyone.) He went to a secular deaf camp last summer and was homesick, but found the Lord had given him a Christian counselor so they read the Bible together at night which helped him.
One thing I have noticed that some public school teachers donít like is for a kid to be too attached to their family. They think the child is being held back from maturing if he wants to be around his family a lot. However, we value close family ties. Having a deaf child has been difficult at times as various family members have misunderstandings caused by poor communication. Squabbles and hurt feelings are common, and must often be brought before the Lord for healing. There are a lot of things we would like to see go smoother in our family. By Godís grace we find the strength to deal with the difficulties of each day, and for the most part we are a close family. As Brian grows up we are trying to help him mature and develop independence, without losing the honor God desires children to have for their parents.
One area of maturity we have seen develop in Brian in the last two years is the desire to work. When he was about 11 he came to me and said he wanted a manís job to do, not just a little kidís job. We live on a large piece of property with enough work around here for several men, so I had plenty of choices for him. He decided to move a big woodpile from behind the woodshed where it had been seasoning, to inside the woodshed. I really didnít think he would do it. But he worked on it 15-30 minutes a day, day after day, week after week, until it was finished. Then he was ready for the next job. Now he is working for me, clearing blackberry vines from under old apple trees so we can hopefully get the apples, and for the neighbor man, doing yard work and odd jobs.
Iím not sure what Brianís future holds, and I do wonder a lot whether we are teaching him enough. He does have a disability that will make it harder for him to get a job that fits him. I have wondered if God is preparing him to be a pastor or Christian teacher for the deaf--there is a great need for godly deaf men to lead churches. I do know that God led us into homeschooling, and will lead Brian into the right work. I believe Brianís deafness is for the glory of God.
This complied list of resources was taken from the Newsletter for Deaf Homeschool Network, with permission from Marilyn Agenbroad.
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Deaf Homeschool Network is a nationwide group designed to support and unite home schooling families with members who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Through our newsletter, e-mail discussion list and personal networking, we share ideas on how to meet our special homeschooling needs. Back issues are available for $4.00/year (Editorís note: Publication began in 1997. These would a gold mine for families just starting out homeschooling with deafness or who are interested in homeschooling with an auditory language deficit or hearing impairment.)
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Website: Deaf Ministries List
American Sign Language StoriesDo you know ASL? Do you love ASL stories? Maybe you would like to volunteer with ASL Access. Some are ASL stories, poetry, drama and comedy. We are looking for volunteers - we can't pay! You can work from home. We want volunteers to help us write reviews of ASL videos, Check out the ASL Access website: www.aslaccess.org. ASLAccess@aol.com, or call 703.799.4896 (tty) or 703.799.8733 (voice).
In a short interview over e-mail with Marilyn Agenbroad, editor of the e-mail newsletter, Deaf Homeschool Network, she answered two questions we sent.
ó-What are families dealing with deafness using for curriculum?
I can't give you a good answer on this. I've surveyed our members and there is such a variety in materials used that I can't say any particular curriculum is used more than others. It seems that most people put together a little of this and that, and make adjustments as necessary. For those who are not teaching phonics (like me), most create their own lessons because the only one available is very expensive.
ó-What methods are folks using to teach phonics? Is it cued speech, lip reading, sign?In my situation, I don't really teach sign. It's comparable to having young children. You don't directly teach them English, you just communicate. That's how we learn sign. (Of course, at the initial stages, we went to sign classes and watched videos together. But for the children, most of the learning happened by communicating at home.) When we learn new vocabulary, we discuss meaning and practice the sign together (deaf and hearing kids).
Support Group For Deaf Moms Homeschooling
602 S. West St.
Carlinville, IL 62626-2110
(217) 854-9045 (V/TTY) 10:00AM - 10 P.M. (CST)