How Do You Teach Your Child About Disabilities?
I have had a rough year. Health-wise.
I was in danger of losing my eyesight in January. I broke my finger in July. But, most of all, this year has been eclipsed by a strain of bacteria that invaded my ear during SXSW Interactive in March. Invasive Group A Streptococcus to be specific. The bacteria that killed Jim Henson, and without sounding too dramatic about it, almost killed me.
I spent 5 days in the hospital in Austin, had surgery there to avoid my ear from exploding into my brain. (I am not joking about this. I wish I were.) Feel behind your ear. There is a bone there that is a honeycomb called the mastoid process, which ventilates the ear and is very fragile. A strong infection like Strep A can bust though that like paper.
Lucky for me, I made it. I made it home, and spent several months fighting off the infection with big gun antibiotics. The net result? Severe hearing loss and a huge hole in my eardrum.
I got *some* hearing back, slowly. Certain tones picked up first, like high pitched dance beats that made me jump when they all of a sudden they came out of nowhere. While at the mall? I was a wreck. All the reverberation and voices and clamoring? Basically it was all one big sound to me.
Two weeks ago, I underwent one more surgery, where my eardrum was reconstructed from the back. The hope is I will regain almost all of my hearing in my right ear. If not? I will most likely wear a hearing aid for the rest of my life.
Which, honestly I am looking forward to, either way.
When you say to people at the store, “I’m sorry, I have hearing loss, can you speak up?” – 90% of the time the response is “It’s OK.” It’s OK? Wow. Yes, I really do get that people have auto responses, like how the waiter says, ” Have a nice dinner,” – and we all say, “you too.” I get that. I do. But my real beef is that most of them don’t actually speak up. And the interactions turn into a yelling match with me sticking my good ear into their personal space and we’re all totally uncomfortable.
Well, those are strangers.
What about when it’s your child?
Declan has been really, really, really annoyed with my hearing loss. He is a mumbler by nature, and has trouble keeping on point in a conversation. Meaning if you ask him to repeat something – he starts from the beginning. Which annoys the you-know-what out of me.
After the 50th rolled eye and big huff of the day recently, I pulled him aside… and… I tell you, I had had it.
“Would you roll your eyes at someone in a wheelchair?!?”
“Would you get annoyed if someone who was blind could not see your paintings?!?”
Sheepishly, with eyes brimming, he told me, “Of course not.”
THEN YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND: I. CANNOT. HEAR. YOU.
CAN YOU HEEAAAARRR THAT???
Not my finest parenting moment.
But I think he finally gets it.
Don’t get me wrong. My kid is sensitive and kind. I think he fell into that trap of letting his guard down, where we always hurt the ones we love. He’s used to me a certain way – and the last year has been a struggle for all of us. He feels it. But we have friends with disabilities. He is considerate with them but also never thinks anything of it.
If I do indeed end up with permanent hearing loss, I hope that is how we’ll go on.
He’ll know how to speak so I hear him, but that’s just the way it is with me, and we move on.
Do you have family members or friends with disabilities?
How do you teach your children to be respect the disability without making a big deal about it?