Emily Howlett: CODAs, Stetsons, bears and trees… but not me.

Posted on September 30, 2013

CODA…  What does it mean?

Our old friend Google tells us ‘CODA’ might be ‘any concluding event, summation or section’, a music shop, a meeting of the co-dependency self-help group, or even underwater imaging technology. It actually took me about three pages of search results before I found what I was looking for, what ‘CODA’ means to me; Children Of Deaf Adults.

This failure to secure top billing might well be down to the fact the CODA movement actually started in the USA and, as ever, the Americans like to do it differently. I believe that our overseas compatriots have ‘KODA’s, which is Kids Of Deaf Adults, but actually makes me think of small Australian mammals, or, when I’m particularly hungry, The Milky Bar Kid. I just like the idea of all these American children running around in Stetsons, having signed shoot-outs and round-ups and chocolate-saving adventures.

If you Google for KODA, you don’t actually get much more useful information, until you have gone through pages of cartoon bears on a spiritual journey, and an Australian tree…


The glorious Koda tree.

… which strikes me as a little… lacking. Because the KODA/CODA thing is actually quite a large one. There are whole herds of children who are the hearing offspring of their deaf parents, and these groups offer them an environment where everybody is in the same situation; everybody knows how it goes down. Yes, there might sometimes be pressure on the children (being treated as a handy, on-tap interpreter by serving staff, anyone?) and there might be differences in their home life, but generally there are a lot of positives to being a CODA as well (membership to a CODA group that go on awesome trips like rock-climbing and abseiling, anyone?). But, still, it’s always nice to have somewhere to go where everybody just knows.

So, I do feel that more fuss should be being made of how great a support network CODA’s can find out there. However, this isn’t actually my point today. Instead, I find myself wondering what is out there for the DCOHAs, like me. Apart from winning the award for most useless acronym, Deaf Children of Hearing Adults seem to have a relatively low profile in terms of support groups. Now, I freely admit that my research into this consisted of yet another Google search, which we have already established the uselessness of (the top returned result was ‘Learn The Underwater Rule with NSPCC’, which I didn’t open for fear of their advice being that hearing parents should drown their deaf children… Obviously not something I would condone, and also probably not anything to do with the actual search but still… Unsettling). Do let me know of all the brilliant things I have missed…

As a DCOHA myself (SURELY some of our Limping Chicken readers can come up with a better acronym than that? Please?!), I remember growing up thinking my sister and I were pretty much unique. Everybody else was hearing or deaf, and their families were the same as them. We were deaf and had hearing parents, and we were the only ones like that in the whole world. Of course, this was different days; back in the Dark Ages, before text messaging and internet. There was only the library which, remarkably, didn’t stock books about how weird and rare (or not) we were.

It’s a wonderful thing to be a CODA or a DCOHA. You get to inhabit that little grey area between two worlds; the deaf and the hearing. Oh, I know there’s a lot of traffic between the two and that we are all human at the end of the day, and improvements to accessibility and yadda yadda boom boom, yes, yes… But, there are still two distinct cultures, and means of communication. Two sets of history. Two sets of identity. Two ways of seeing the world.

It can take time, seeing the wonderful side of it. When you’re eight years old and having to interpret your mum’s meeting with the bank manager, while your friends play football. When you’re fifteen and trying to find out who you are and being pulled by two seemingly separate identities. When you’re twenty-one, and you realise you’ve been one, and the other, and actually you’re a bit of both and that’s so confusing. When you’re fifty-six, and your parents have passed away, and you realise you don’t have to live the way they needed you to anymore. When you’re fifty-six and your parents have passed away and you realise how utterly grateful you are to them for giving you the opportunities they did.

When you get past that part (even if it sometimes creeps back and has to be worked through again); being a CODA or a DCOHA truly is a wonderful thing. It opens up so many doors that might be closed to someone who was merely deaf or hearing with no experience of the other side of the coin. It makes you a rare kind of person, that the library doesn’t know about, but who isn’t alone. So, I say hurrah for the mixed families, and hurrah for the rich heritage they provide.

And, why not? Hurrah for the cartoon bears as well. Hurrah!


“You mean… I’m not the only one?”

Emily Howlett is a Contributing Editor to this site. She is a profoundly Deaf actress, writer, horsewoman and new mum. Emily used to be found all over the place, but motherhood has turned her into somewhat of a self-confessed homebody. She now has not one, but four grey eyebrow hairs. C’est la vie.

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