The Reality of Being a Child with Hearing Impaired Parents

Commissioned by Mimi Hearing Technologies, 2018. 

“Dealing with my parent’s deafness wasn’t the problem. The problem was dealing with the world’s perception of their deafness” said Annjoy Marcus to a New York Times reporter, at the first conference for the hearing impaired to take place in United States back in 1986. Annjoy grew up a “CODA”, or Child of Deaf Adult which the hearing-impaired community calls “hearing children” such as Annjoy. The silent culture of the deaf community should in no way be conceived of as bland, dull or lacking. If anything, the opposite is true. Hearing impaired families often compare their lives to recent immigrants in a new world, where their community has its own language, and an inherent sense of belonging. There are community events dotted throughout the calendar where groups of hearing impaired peoples meet, sign, cook and simply enjoy each other’s company. The “hearing world” is blatant before them, but can be completely disregarded with a gesture as simple as closing their eyes or turning away.

The CODA and the Hearing World

For a CODA, however, their relationship with the hearing world can be described as more diplomatic by necessity. Children of hearing impaired parents who can both sign and hear become the de facto mediator and translator between their parents and the hearing world. Doorbells, phone calls and strangers trying to grab their parent’s attention all get directed toward the child resigned to the fact that they will have to deal with matter at hand, no matter how trivial or trying. “We children of deaf parents share many stories of assuming early responsibility” said Mr Jacobs, another attendee of the first CODA conference. He went on to describe how as a five-year-old he would translate the radio’s news into sign language for his deaf parents, struggling to keep up with the speed and complexity of the speech.

The Real Struggle of the Mundane

Thankfully subtitles and television have levitated the CODA’s of today from much of this stress so ill-suited to their early years. However, a struggle remains and is illustrated with a glib but loving touch by blogger, Matt Dixon. “I felt physical pain” says Dixon, referring to how he would have to stomp and bang on the wooden floors of his house to ensure he could get his parent’s attention. On the other hand, any time a parent called Dixon would have to dutifully come to see what it was his parents needed him for. This sounds harmless enough at first however, when many daily requests for his presence could range anywhere from “are you hungry” to “oh, I was just wondering if you were home” the 20th time coming down stairs to converse with family members, simply hollering back downstairs seems like the lap of luxury to a weary CODA teenager.

The Perks and the Charm

This is not to say that being a CODA doesn’t come with its benefits. An infant who desires nothing more than their parents company and touch is never at risk of feeling alone with a deaf parent. As such a parent has no way of simply listening out for the wanting cries of their new born, the parent sleeps while keeping a hand on the baby – waiting to hear the rumblings of hunger or the cries of discomfort. Furthermore, dealing with the hearing world’s perception (or more aptly miss-perception of deafness) theoretically has its perks too. Matt Dixon discusses how he was certain he’d be able to get out of letting his father know his teacher was trying to communicate that Matt’s grades had slipped at a PT meeting. As Dixon was the only translator present, he gleefully and intentionally misinterpreted the teacher’s message, stating instead, “Matthew is doing well”. The father smiled a knowing grin – reminding his cunning little child that he could read lips. Sometimes a CODA can’t catch a break, thankfully the hearing-impaired community’s collective wit, culture and support more than makes up for the irksome moments.