Sunday, May 25, 2008

Hey DEAF Boy! Bullies...Jordan, Rachel and Hearing Moms' Perspectives

"Get ready DEAF-BOY...forget about the curveballs; let's see if you can handle some heat!"..."By the way, don't ever call me DEAF-BOY again." These two sentences from RALLY CAPS, that my son can finally read, had a profound impact on Jordan. While playing a game of Go Fish with Sofia and Jordan, Sofia looked at Jordan and said, "Jordan, I asked if you had a monkey...What are you DEAF!" I swear Jordan almost hit her. He got very, very indignant and said, "Don't say that to me, Sofia."


When Jordan said, "Hey Mamma, what are you DEAF?" to me for the first time, I thought, we have finally arrived- he is so aware of who he is and that his deafness is such a part of his identity, that it no longer represents a weakness to him. I guess I was wrong. There is a fine line. He can say it, but others can not offend him. I shared this experience with other mothers on the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Circle and received many interesting replies, that I would like to share...(obviously with permission)

Rachel emailed me her response off-group (at 3 am. her time...does the girl ever sleep??):

Hey Jodi!

I just saw your post on CICircle about Jordan getting upset over
being called, "deaf." As a person who is deaf and who hears with a CI
like Jordan, I would be offended if someone called me deaf in a
"teasing" scenario, and so, I can completely understand how Jordan
feels. While deafness is part of my life, it doesn't define who I
am. I'm just a person who happens to be deaf and who hears with CIs and
from reading your post, I think that's how Jordan wants to view
himself. Because Jordan grew up in the hearing world, hears and
speaks, I think it's hard for him to view himself as a deaf person as
a whole. As you know, I can't see myself as a deaf person as my
entire identity. To me, when someone says "you're deaf" in a
teasing scenario, it's like someone saying, "You're mentally
disabled" or "You're autistic" or "You're fat."

Also, I would be careful about saying "proud to be deaf" because for
some people, it's sensitive to say "proud to be deaf" because some
view it as "proud to have a medical issue" like "proud to have
diabetes" or "proud to be blind" and perhaps, Jordan may view it that
way too. Choosing how to define one person's deafness is a very
personal choice, and maybe you might want to ask Jordan how he
defines his deafness.
You might want to ask him "Do you view
yourself as a hearing person or as a deaf person?" and ask why, as
that might help you understand why Jordan wants to define himself the
way he chooses to.

The way I view my deafness as part of my life is that I feel that my
deafness has made me a more unique and special person.
So, I think
saying "Your deafness has made you a more unique and a special
person" instead of saying, "It's something you should be proud of" would
probably be something Jordan would understand better about being
Anyway, I apologize if I sound "preachy" but I just wanted to
give you my perspective as someone who grew up with CIs, and I
understand how Jordan feels.

Diane, a hearing mom of a remarkable son, wrote:

Kids are pretty astute and can tell when someone is using words descriptively or
insultingly. And I can't blame someone for not wanting to be called "deaf boy".
My son explained to me that when people referred to him as that, they were making
the deafness the most important part of him. He asked Why don't they call me
Soccer Boy? Smart Boy? Funny Boy? It was a way of singling him out as being
very different from everyone else, when one reason that he had so much speech
and AVT and used HA's and a CI was to be accepted like everyone else. It would
be like calling an African-American, "black boy". Yes, his skin might be very
dark, and yes he might be a boy, but why does that have to be the identifying
characteristic? Can't he be a Swimmer/Singer/Football player/Spelling Bee
Champion/Whatever Boy that happens to be black?

At least, that's how my son felt about it.

My son suffered his share of teasing and insults. I remember one day in the 4th
grade he came home and told me he had been called Stupid Deaf Boy. It was the
Annual 4th Grade VS 5th Grade Kickball Championship. My son had played soccer for
several years at that point and had quite a kick. He kicked a homerun with
bases loaded to help the 4th grade beat the 5th grade. You have to realize,
this was Big Stuff! The 5th graders were the Kings of the Campus and did not
like for one second that the little 4th graders had won. So a 5th grader was
angry at the end and called my son, Stupid Deaf Boy. He was angry and he seized
upon the most obvious thing he could think to try and insult him. By then, we
had gone through our share of ignorance and meanness, so my son was fairly
nonchalant about it. He told me that obviously the boy didn't know one thing
about him or he would have never called him Stupid (by this time my son had been
tested and identified as Gifted and Talented), and so what if the kid called him
Deaf? He was!

I think when he was younger we always talked about the fact that
he had ONE disability and MANY capabilities. We even compared him to specific
kids in school that struggled at things where my son excelled. We pointed out
that they weren't deaf, but that they couldn't do as well at certain things that
he could. We also pointed out constantly that EVERYONE has something to
overcome, that his was just more obvious to the observer. Lastly, we taught him
Consider the Source. Sometimes the biggest thing some kids have to overcome is
IGNORANCE. We talked about how some kids feel a need to put others down in
order to lift themselves up, and that really they deserved our pity.

With regard to the above incident, I'd like to add that my son's 4th grade
classmates heard the boy and were outraged. Before a teacher even had a chance
to do a thing, they surrounded the boy and forced him to apologize to my son. One
insulting kid, many supportive friends.

I'd also like to say that this issue definitely gets better as kids get older.
There is always going to be a jerk (c'mon, how many of us adults know someone
who is a jerk?! I know I do.), but the vast majority of kids will totally see
this as just a part of who their friend is, and not a big deal at all. Along
with our previous post on Prom fun, I'd like to mention (and I don't want to
seem like I'm bragging - just sharing, really!) that my son was recently elected
President of his high school's National Honor Society (by his peers) for his
Senior year, he was selected to be one of two boys from his high school to
participate in the American Legion Boys State program this summer (nominated by
teachers), and we received a phone message that seems to indicate that he is one
of 30 students from our state selected to participate in a selective summer
residential academic program hosted at a university for 4 weeks (application
reviewed by our state's Dept of Education). My point is that his deafness has
become a "non-issue". He's a "regular" kid who can expect to participate in
anything he wants, just like any other kid, and to be accepted by his peers and
adults alike. He's become so "normal"! (Again, absolutely no offense intended
to anyone by my use of that word.)

Hope this helps,


And...Naomi checked in as well (go directly to her blog for more on Bullies-and bring the kleenex):

I'm not sure that it is the fact that it is his deafness that is being referred to but rather that the person using this kind of phrase is clearly insulting him and it is the fact that someone is insulting him that leads to the anger. In the same way that "fat kid" would make a larger child angry, it is the intent behind the words rather than the words themselves.

My son had his share of teasing in his old school, sadly those charged with
dealing with it did their best, but really had no clue. They spent their time
putting out the spot fires rather than trying to change the culture of bullying.
He stopped reporting it to them after awhile.

In my son's case the teasing/bullying came mostly from one child. This child was
small for his age, was of an ethnic background that traditionally do not deal
well with disability, and struggled academically. My son was tall, and a whizz at

My son and I talked about how much of this boy's reaction was about jealousy,
that he was jealous of my son's ability to do so well at school in spite of his
hearing loss. We spent a lot of time talking about how kids that bully will find
something to pick on no matter what, red hair, big nose, glasses whatever! This
kid couldn't get to my son so he started in on my other son with "the freak's brother" oh yeah he was a charmer! We talked about how insecure this boy was and that he tried to make himself feel better by putting other people down.

It wasn't until a year or so later when my son had the maturity to really
discuss it from his perspective that he described home "as a safe haven". He
reported to me that knowing he came home to a place that was safe, supportive
and where he felt so much love, sustained him during the tough times at school.

He moved schools since then and has never been teased in his new school and
has so many mates he is never home!

I think the issue here is helping our kids understand why people behave in
that way. The thing is that whilst I could have cheerfully gone right off at
this kid, I saw the way his parents were, the way he was treated, the
expectations on him, he lived his own hell right there in his own house. His
behaviour was a reflection of that. I think we need to let our kids know that it
is ok to be angry about this stuff but in reality what does all that anger do?
It eats them up and for what? They can't change the behaviour of another person
but they can choose to change the way they respond to that behaviour.

It also comes from developing self-esteem and a good close friendship group.
My son has his friends and he values what they think. Anyone else, he doesn't care
what they think, they are not important to him, so he couldn't care less what
they think about him and doesn't waste a second of the day worrying about it.
*I spent eleven years without support in dealing with psychological and technical issues in raising my Deaf child; now that I have finally found this support, I hope that others who need it...recognize that need and seek it out, because it does exist. Why go through all of this, alone?*


Valerie said...

You give support not only to the parents of a children who are deaf, but also us adults who are deaf. I have been dealing with this for 39 years(wow going to be 40, I'm old).

Having the support of family and friends makes a world of differences. Often my older sister went to children that was teasing me about wearing hearing aids and just stood up for me. She did this so I did not have too. Both sisters did that over and over again. That's sisters!

I found once you accept yourself as you, not deaf, not ci, not hearing aid, just you; others will too. There are terrible trash out there. We face them daily. We stand proud, tall and with support of others. Don't take crap from others. And most important we keep these bullies from controlling out lives by support of parents, teachers, adminstration and friends. Tell others if a bully is harrassing. Don't face it alone, bullies bully everyone. They are just trash!

Now on the plus side, I had my end of the year summary for teaching. Wonderful summary. I told my principal thank you for all the support throughout 14 years through hard of hearing, deafness and finally CIs. You looked at me and said - You are a fantastic teacher. I don't see that, I see you!

So to turn it around and away from bullies, a true person sees your heart not the color of your skin or what is around your ear, but you. Bullies beware there is a whole set of children and adults that are going to take you down!

Kim said...

Hi Jodi,
I can't comment on kids going through this, but as an adult, other adults have said the same thing to me at times. "What are you, DEAF?" The best response is to smile and say "Yep, I'm deaf and I wear hearing aids, but I still can't hear very well. . ." Most adults feel horribly embarrassed after that. Though I've run into a few jerks at work who actually threw up their arms and walked away. A couple times I've been asked why I'm working-- as if they think deaf people shouldn't be allowed to hold jobs. Doesn't really bother me anymore. Anyone who has ever been rude to me about my deafness has had a reputation for being rude to others about other things. I figure if my deafness didn't set them off, something else would have.

Anonymous said...

Hello, Jodi, Ah yes, I remember it was a very, very long time before I handled such comments well at all, before I accepted myself as who and what I am.  Now, I am likely to reply "(pause) duh, yeah!" if I am feeling kindly, or "yeah -- what are *you*, stupid?" if I am feeling feisty (bg).David

Unknown said...

Dear Val, Kim and David,
Thank you for your comments...Today has been exhausting and I need to go make a box, have no idea what to make, but considering it's midnight, it will be a really lame box:) Hugs to all...Val, that's great about your Principal, Kim, can't believe anyone would ask you why you're working, just goes to show the level of total ignorance in the world, and David, if you are the David I think you are, I'm so sorry I haven't written back-things have been crazy around here-but I got your email and ...thank you. Jodi

Abbie said...

I have so much to say on this topic and not enough time to write it!

Be on the lookie loo...