Our Journey into Deafness

By Iwawaki, Nicole; Iwawaki, John | Volta Voices, March/April 2012 | Go to article overview

Our Journey into Deafness


Iwawaki, Nicole, Iwawaki, John, Volta Voices


Sometimes people think our journey into deafness began over eight years ago when we found out our baby girl, Cordelia, was born deaf. But for my family, this journey began long before Cordelia was born - long before me and my husband, John, even had children. Our story began when I was an impressionable teenager. I met a friend who had a father who was deaf and as I watched them communicate via American Sign Language (ASL), I was enamored by sign language.

Many years passed and I was always drawn to sign language. In my early 20s I enrolled in a community ASL class. After several levels of ASL, and a move to California from Canada, I thought I might like to be a sign language interpreter. I looked into local options but soon discovered that I was pregnant with our first child, Judah. During the first year of Judah's life, I often used simple signs with him, took a refresher sign language class and attended a church service that had sign language interpretation.

Mere months later I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Cordelia. Our final step in being discharged from the hospital was a newborn screening test for hearing. Cordelia did not pass the screening. I remember saying to the screener "Of all the things that can go wrong, we'll take deafness. We have a healthy baby and can go home today." Several weeks later at the follow up screening we discovered what we already suspected: another failed screening. By the time Cordelia was 3 months old the hearing loss was confirmed. She was bilaterally deaf.

We were devastated, but not defeated. After weighing the options and researching for hours, we had Cordelia fitted with tiny hearing aids as soon as we could. The aids did not seem to help. We educated ourselves about cochlear implants, becoming experts so to speak. We attended an AG Bell Convention and went to local seminars and programs about the deaf and hard of hearing. We were directly, personally involved in her education options; we knew our parental rights for Individualized Family Service Plans (IFSP) and Individualized Education Programs (IEP). We were involved in decisions regarding her testing and teachers, and we challenged and fought for what was best for Cordelia and our family.

When Cordelia was 10 months old she received a cochlear implant for her right ear. She heard for the first time at 11 months old. That is when the real work began. Since we already had a basis of sign language communication, we adopted Signed Exact English (SEE). In her early years, we simultaneously spoke and signed to her. Cordelia was enrolled in the early education program in our local school district. We had multiple home visits a week with speech-language pathologists and teachers of the deaf as well as audiology appointments. It definitely was tiring running around with two children from appointment to appointment.

As parents of a child with hearing loss, we have made great sacrifices. With the many appointments, having professionals visit our home, introducing Cordelia to strangers, enduring conflicting opinions of how to best raise a child who is deaf, and even driving many miles to the appropriate school, these sacrifices were worth it in the long run. It gets easier and the payoffs are evident, especially entering the schoolage years.

We constantly make adaptations to our life, like using closed captioning for TV and movies, playing less background music, choosing quieter locales to dine, seating Cordelia with her strong (right) side to us, educating our extended families and making a language rich environment possible. We read books to her daily and even today she is an avid reader. Most of all, we prayed.

After she received her implant, Cordelia took to listening and spoken language right away. She enjoyed music, babbling to herself and made great strides in her toddler class. We believe that the fact we used sign language before she could hear meant she was able to use the basic language she already had and put the sign to the word she heard, thus accelerating her speech and language acquisition. …

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