The Penny

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.

[Sunday, March 27, 2011]

Mister Personality

One of the deaf high school students coordinated a deaf/hard of hearing ice skating trip, inviting the teachers, interpreters, and d/hh students throughout the county. It was surprisingly well-attended! There were two kids that the d/hh program head and I had targeted as really needing to attend: one because the parents need to see that talking and signing are not mutually exclusive; the other because the poor kid has no friends. He gets along great with everybody at school, but he's basically hidden away at home, playing video games and watching television. I think it's a combination of a cultural thing (acute embarrassment at disability) and being the only "kid" in the family--brothers are 17 and 18. He's 8.

Both of these kids came! I don't know how much success was had with the adorable little guy who desperately needs sign language (he has an unrepaired cleft palate and can't talk), because I was out on the ice with the 8-year-old. I was so happy that his oldest brother and his mother brought him. I think I've seen mom's face twice in the last two years. They are an overworked, poverty-level family--she doesn't have the luxury of taking off work to volunteer in the classroom or attend IEP meetings. But she is such a sweet person. Laynie got to chat with her a little, which I was happy about. She can see that sign language doesn't make you a bad person. Yeah, pretty much all of the elementary kids' families need this lesson. By middle school they start to accept the idea, and by high school they couldn't care less how their kid communicates as long as they will become a tax-paying citizen at some point.

So Laynie and my sister, Katie, who also signs, came to the little event. Katie hung with the teenagers or with me. I was kind of glued to little man, who at first was terrified, then clingy, then confident--but wouldn't let go of his stabilizer device. It was a metal, walker-looking thing that looks like this picture I found online:

But the kid was fast using that thing! As he began to get comfortable, he started chatting with the deaf students I passed, and with his interpreter, who was one of the few brave adults to get on the ice. I guess I should give little man a name. Let's go with Macarius.

Macarius is a great implant user, although he hasn't had them very long, just since he turned 7. But the noise level at the skating rink made it difficult for hearing people to communicate--you had to lean in to hear people. The hearing teachers were signing to each other to support speech (and of course to be polite). But luckily Macarius also signs, because the school district kind of put down its foot at not signing with a 6-year-old who knew five words.

He got quite the schooling in the basics of deaf cultural communication:
-Repeatedly signing someone's name sign does not get their attention.
-Vocalizing does not get their attention.
-Yeah, you have to wave your hand and get your little body in front of them so they'll see you.
-Just presenting your name sign is not enough. Everyone is going to ask you to fingerspell your name.
-And they're going to fingerspell their names. Get ready for normal speed fingerspelling, because they see an 8-year-old--they don't know you've only been signing for two years. And you learned from hearing. Sorry.
-If you want a turn in conversation, get those arms up when you see a pause. Nobody's going to say, "Macarius, what do you think?"
-"You have cochlear implants too!" is a conversation killer.
-Facial expressions will get you far.

Macarius had a bit of a crush on the d/hh program head's college-aged (I think) daughter. At one point, he told me to go on ahead, he was going to wait for her. Ouch! He loved racing with the college girl's hockey-player boyfriend.

He kept asking me HOW?? as I was skating.

Watching the deaf teenagers try to communicate with him was a rude awakening for me. He couldn't understand much of what they said. "Do you go to a school for the deaf or mainstream school?" Right, like he knows what mainstream means. I modeled answers for him to imitate when needed, and I think they thought he was dumb. Again, two years of learning language! He just doesn't know much. He did learn a new sign and English word while he was there: hockey.

Mom spent the first hour fretting at the sidelines, trying to get Macarius to wear his jacket over his fleece sweatshirt. Of course he was way too cool for that, and he told his mother that the heaviness of the coat would make him fall. (Same kid who argued that he doesn't like to do homework while the moon is out--could you tell?) It honestly is not cold at all when you're skating--I wore a light fleece and no gloves and was fine. Laynie had explained this to Macarius' mom using gestures, and she understood--but you can't keep a worried mom down. Finally I took pity on her and showed Macarius that I had on a tee shirt and fleece. "See? Two. You how many?" He immediately put on his coat. Mom thanked me profusely, nearly crying with relief.

During a Zamboni break (he watched the ice become smooth and said, "Oh, no, now I'm going to fall!"), I made him talk to the cleft palate kid. Just to show that the kids in our program talk. I fingerspelled the other kid's name, and Macarius spoke it aloud.. correctly. It's a weird name, but Macarius is my little phonics champ. Boo-yah. He tried to say hi and stuff. But the other kid was pretty boring for Macarius, since he doesn't communicate, so Macarius went off to stalk the college girl.

When Macarius' mom told him it was time to go (before everyone else was leaving), he was NOT a happy campter. But the Zamboni came out five minutes later and I called it a day, which mollified him. Mom and Brother were trying to get me to meet them at the rink again, because the child obviously had a great time, and they could see that he has a natural talent for skating. He could have ditched the stabilizer thing 30 minutes in.

I told them maybe I'd go skating with them again (how could I just outright say no?), and Macarius suggested tomorrow. Or March 31. Haha. I told him March 31 is a Thursday, and he has private AVT on Thursdays. Older brother suggested next Saturday. Oh, boy.


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