Avia Ustanny, Freelance Writer
AUDREY BROWN is petite and self assured. Her daughter, Tanisha, seems as if she will be just like Mom in a few years. There is one difference between mother and daughter, however. Tanisha is deaf.
The birth of the child 10 years ago was happiness followed by emotional trauma at the discovery of hearing impairment. “I was traumatised. I was crying. It hit me real hard,” remembers Audrey. She took her baby daughter to the Jamaica Association for the Deaf and the Caribbean Hearing Centre, beginning a round of testing that ended in the conclusive diagnosis of deafness. Approximately 27,175 Jamaican children in the 0-9 age group, or five per cent of this population segment have some hearing loss. The challenges facing the parents of these children are numerous, ranging from the need for special education, to the cost of annual testing, transport and boarding for schools and dealing with the stigma attached to deafness in this society. The wider society is also cruel to the parents of disabled children, observes Lurline Headley, principal of the Danny Williams School for the Deaf, as they frequently conclude and express the opinion that the child’s plight is the direct result of something wrong that the parent did. Parents are also challenged to develop parenting skills suited for their deaf children. Audrey Brown, unlike many other parents in the same position, was able to accept the fact of her daughter’s disability when the diagnosis was conclusively made. “I took her to the pre-school at Danny Williams (School for the Deaf) and met others with same problem. That helped me a lot,” she said.
Audrey learned sign language at her daughter’s school, and bought books, dictionaries and videos to learn to communicate with her daughter. “I am still learning, it’s a continuing thing.”
The two travel abroad together. They play together: Tanisha enjoys biking and skating. “She is very outgoing. She likes to mingle with other people,” her mother says.
Mrs. Brown thinks that her daughter may become an accountant. “She likes mathematics.” She plans to send her abroad to school.
Professionals in the field of deaf education says that this willingness of the parent to accept the situation of their child is the most significant thing that makes the difference to their success or failure in integrating socially. Often, deaf children are emotionally rejected and deprived of books, food and other support willingly given to hearing children.
There is nothing abnormal in the emotions of the deaf child. They love and need attention as much as other children do. There is nothing wrong with their brain, either. Taught early, they can learn to communicate as well as others. Early acceptance of the fact that they have little or no hearing leads to better educational decisions also.
Babarba Thorpe, programmes director at the Jamaica Association for the Deaf, points out that deaf students have been doing well, scholastically, sitting external examinations and have been passing them. Several have received scholarships from the Co-operative Association of States for Scholarhsips (CASS) and have returned with associate degrees.
The hearing impaired in Jamaica are teachers, accountants, data processors, dental technicians, work in banking, and many other fields, Mrs. Thorpe indicates.