Matt Kirby: Bringing up our Deaf son (BSL)

Posted on November 22, 2017

Hello, this is my first time writing on the Limping Chicken blog!

The reason I am writing is because I have a son who is seven months old, who – like my wife and I – is deaf.

To watch Matt’s article signed in BSL by Helen Foulkes, press play below, or scroll down to continue in written English!

My wife and I are happy, and my deaf parents and deaf brother are happy too. My wife’s parents are a bit upset because they’ve been through bringing up a deaf child themselves, but my wife’s told them it will be fine.

My wife and I can give him love, understanding, and four languages – English, Italian, British Sign Language (BSL) and Italian Sign Language (LIS).

We meet hearing people out there and they say he looks cute, lovely, and so on. I don’t tell them that he’s deaf like us because it will make them say ‘I’m sorry’. It’s better to let them look at my baby’s happiness. He keeps on smiling at them.

We are part of a Facebook and WhatsApp group with other deaf parents who have deaf children, where we discuss our children’s future. There are 18 children in all. We are all worried about our deaf children’s education.

Our deaf friends who have hearing children often say that the problem we will face is education. They’re right. In my area, a lot of deaf children have cochlear implants and are educated without using BSL.

Audiologists tend to see my son’s deafness from a medical perspective and don’t recognise us as a deaf family. The audiologist mentioned cochlear implants when we last met them – they hadn’t mentioned it before because they knew what we would say.

We won’t agree to a cochlear implant unless our son decides he wants it himself.

The audiologist said that a cochlear implant is important for our son to pick up language and understanding. But I am deaf and understand English and the world around me, while my wife is deaf and understands Italian, German, English and signs in three sign languages – British, German and Italian.

I feel the approach of audiologists, which does not encourage sign language, leads to language delay and language deprivation for deaf children.

At the moment, we are still looking for a suitable nursery for my son. Also, we must think ahead for primary and secondary school. It is hard, but we are getting there.

My wife has found a deaf baby who is a similar age to my son, who lives locally. She is meeting up with the parents. It turns out that the baby will have a cochlear implant and that the audiologist told them not to use sign language with her, but the parents have (luckily) decided to sign anyway. My wife is happy to meet them.

If my son asks if he can have a cochlear implant in the future, I will tell him to make a decision based on what he feels, for his future, his education, work and social life. Then (gulp) I will accept his decision.

I hope that makes sense to you. I’m happy to read your comments.

Matt Kirby is a Deaf actor who appeared in Text Batteries & Earwax, Hands Solo, The Fingerspellers, Four Deaf Yorkshiremen go to Blackpool, and many more. He’s also a part time worker in the health industry, and a first time dad.

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