Both our daughters – Toddler, three, and Baby, 16 months old, are hearing. That said, being brought up by deaf parents, using both spoken English and sign language at home, it’s inevitable that they’ve picked up a few ‘deaf’ traits.
For instance, like Toddler before her, Baby learned to sign a full six months before she could speak.
Her latest sign is ‘aeroplane,’ because we live right under the flight path for Heathrow and she’s constantly hearing planes fly over. It’s signed with one hand, above your head, almost as though it were real.
Her first sign was ‘Duck,’ and her favourite pastime is getting out her book of baby animal photos, then pointing at each one, prompting us to show her the sign for it. She particularly likes us signing the long trunk of an elephant, or the long neck of a giraffe.
Meanwhile, using gestures, such as pointing, waving, and picking up objects, she seems to able to communicate anything she wants.
It’s not only when she signs that she seems ‘deaf.’
She’s always been incredibly watchful, seeming (to her proud parents at least) to have the focused observational eye of a seasoned Deafie as she follows what’s happening in front of her. And because she maintains eye contact, you only have to pull a silly face to make her giggle.
At ten months she realised that tapping her Mum was the best way of getting her attention (rather than calling her), and she often won’t start doing something (such as picking up a toy) before we’ve responded to her frantic waves!
One of the funniest things I’ve seen her do, when a child at a playgroup didn’t respond to her taps, was to physically place her face in front of theirs. All of a sudden, the poor child had Baby’s smiling yet snotty face about an inch away from hers.
When I thought about it later, I realised she’d tried the physical means, then the visual, and yet making a sound didn’t seem to come into it. We didn’t teach any of this, it was intuitive – picked up naturally.
That was Baby until very recently – but as with all children, things change seemingly overnight. And I only have to look at Toddler to see just how much the ‘hearing’ side of Baby will come through.
Toddler now runs around chatting, and although she still comes to us to tap us to get our attention, most often she calls our names, placing the onus on us (both hearing aid wearers) to listen out for her. She still signs – especially when her deaf grandparents visit – but since she started going to pre-school, the hearing, audible world has naturally taken over.
Baby is just about to take the same steps.
In the last couple of weeks, she’s started becoming much more vocal, even singing her favourite nursery rhyme to herself (you can’t make make out the words but she’s got the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star down to perfection).
She’s now calling out “Mama’ (she calls me the same name!) all the time, and she suddenly seems much more aware of sounds around her, understanding many of the words we say.
Like all parents, as your children get a little older there’s a pang of regret as they leave certain stages behind. The newborn, the baby, then eventually the toddler are all consigned to history as they learn to crawl, then stand up, then walk and talk, start going to school, stepping up to the next stage of their journey towards the person they are going to be.
We’re incredibly excited about Baby’s development as she discovers a world of speech and sound, but we will remember with great fondness the ‘deaf’ version of her – the Baby that signed and tapped and waved and absorbed the world as though all the information she ever needed could be seen.
It’s been a beautiful time.
The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.
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