Having a disability may make your child's educational journey and eventual path to employment bumpier than their peers, but it doesn't mean they cannot reach the same goals. Here are some of the lessons I taught my young daughter as she worked to overcome the obstacles thrown in her way due to her rapidly progressive hearing loss. These are the same things I learned as a child who also dealt with a significant hearing loss.
1. Teach your child to educate.
Give your child the words to explain their disability in age appropriate language. From the time I could talk, I told other children that I needed hearing aids to hear better just like some people needed eyeglasses to see better. By being open and neither ashamed nor embarrassed, it helped to put my classmates at ease. They didn't need to wonder, whisper or tease. My hearing aids were no longer foreign objects to them and they found it easier to accept me as I was. Children are curious by nature. Practice asking relevant questions with your child so they become comfortable fielding and answering them from their classmates and friends.
2. Teach your child to advocate.
Your child should understand that it is their responsibility to ensure that their needs are met. In school settings parents are not there and teachers may be busy or unaware of problems. Issues come up daily so it is best for your child to learn to recognize them and be prepared. Help them establish independence and to find their voice as young as possible. When they need to speak up for themselves they will have both the experience and the confidence to do so.
3. Teach your child to focus.
Children and adults alike pick up emotional and social clues with the use of visual and auditory cues such as facial expressions, body gestures, what people say and how they say it. Teach your child to be attentive and to face someone who is speaking and also that they should directly face people when they're speaking to them. Focusing is an important skill that is more easily learned at a young age and it will reap great rewards.
4. Teach your child the power of humor.
Humor is a wonderful tool, especially for a child with a disability. Growing up, I experienced many embarrassing and difficult situations, but I usually managed to find the humor in them. By not taking things too seriously I turned uncomfortable situations around, and in turn earned respect from my peers.
5. Teach your child that no one is perfect.
Many people don't have physical disabilities or visible problems, but their lives are far from perfect. Realizing this, I never pitied myself and I have always been open about my disability. It may not be easy, but your child has everything to gain by having a conversation about it early on. Typically, people are much more understanding and patient when they are aware that something is difficult for you to do. By exhibiting this kind of self-confidence, it also sets the tone for how people will view and react to your child.
While being a child with a disability is not easy, it is important for parents to teach them advocacy skills and coping strategies and also to instill self-confidence at a young age. By doing so, the roads of education, employment and relationships will be a lot smoother.
Paula Rosenthal, J.D. (she/her) is deaf and uses cochlear implants to hear. Her husband and one of her three children also use cochlear implants. Paula is an award-winning advocate for people with hearing loss and their families. She blogs at PaulaRosenthal.com and is available for speaking engagements. To contact her, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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