I cannot communicate my feelings to my parents!

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(The following article was contributed by Oliver Arnd Markwirth at 1 Jun 1995.)

According to the Associated Press, a 15-year-old girl in North Carolina has asked a judge to let her live permanently with her interpeter. Two years ago she tried to tell her mother she had been abused by her stepfather. Her mother didn't understand. She told her interpreter. Social workers stepped in after being informed of the abuse. She then went to live with her father.

Her father testified he doesn't know signs, but he was able to communicate with the girl. To quote: "I could stomp my foot and point to something...If there was a major problem I would go to the school and have the interpreter tell me what was bothering her."


Should we suppose that lack of effective communication mode is form of child abuse? Do we have legal precedence governing the deaf children's choice of communication? That case in North Carolina ought to serve mise en garde to many parents into examining their communication mode with their deaf children. Parents ought to determine whether it is helping or hindering their deaf children's ability to express themselves.

The PBS documentary, "For A Deaf Son", introduced the viewers to a deaf son named Thomas and his family in Dallas, Texas. His father examined different approaches of raising and preparing a deaf child for his autonomous and successful participation in the hearing world without compromising him. However, his mother was uncertain about the possibilities other than oralism because she was fearful of consequences should the oralism be abandoned. She felt she cannot adapt herself to the deafness as she described the analogy: should her child have fins and gills to live underwater rather than digits and lungs, she cannot join him underwater because she was not equipped to do so. She remained adamant about the oral programme for her son.

A portion of the documentary broke my heart when Thomas screamed and cried in frustration. His parents could not understand his frustration because he could not express himself effectively. The viewers could hear his parents apologising for understanding not a word from him and for not helping him. The disturbing episode forced his parents to change their position on sign language because they were "...focus(ing) on his least capabilities..." in reference to his deafness. I have met Thomas before he was introduced to sign language. He was a bit unapproachable because of his temperamental tendencies. After learning sign language, Thomas bloomed into loving and sweet boy with whimiscal sense of humour. He teased me about his parents' whereabout; it was so funny.

My father did not learn sign language for many years; he did not give me a reason. My brother and I began as oralists until we were introduced to sign language in 1975. The change incensed my father because he could not follow our conversations during the dinner. He declared oralism to be "official communication mode" at home. To this day, the paternal bond with son did not form between my father and me. We feel more of the polite strangers every time we meet since I do not know much of his life (as dictated from him) and of his ever absence from home during the assignments. It discomforts me when the oral communication collapses between me and my father. I sent my resolutions to my parents in 1993 not to utilise oral communication because I felt that my parents were not doing their part in learning sign language when I worked so hard with oralism. I did not feel writing back and forth being communicative at all. I feel my parents have lost a part of me; I do not feel a strong, close bond to my parents although they love me and care about me very much.

So, the bottom line is to learn sign language then supplement with other communication abilities that the deaf children might demonstrate! Au contraire, the sign language does not hinder or compromise the deaf child's capabilities to function in hearing world. It is a person who choose to hinder himself. Why are the hearing parents so resistent to the concept of sign language and to the advice of deaf community in the first place? I have seen so many parents losing the bond with their deaf children since they do not communicate effectively. It is peculiar to observe the parents doing everything in name of science and for themselves but not in name of humanities and for their children. Once the ability of medical and educational professionals to support and sustain the emotional and mental development and growth crumbles, the parents turn in desperation to us for miracle work on their "useless and unpresentable" deaf children. Why is it a rule that each and every deaf child be thrusted into oralism when it is clear that sign language is exceptional tool. Why ought the parents press on with oralism until their deaf children demonstrate their disappointing educational and mental developments in order to alter the choice of communication. It is like calling for a fire brigade after the house burns down to the ground. The first five years of child's life is pivotal in mental acquistion of information. Therefore, a deaf child ought to be exposed to many things and be able to communicate his thoughts effectively.

A message to the parents: if you love your deaf children so much, please learn sign language regardless of your adherence to oralism. Believe me, you will be very grateful.

Last update date: 
1996 Feb 3