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August 15, 2005

Building Community for Deaf Parents and their Hearing Kids

From: Connect For Kids, D.C. - Aug 15, 2005

Published on Connect for Kids (
Building Community for Deaf Parents and their Hearing Kids

Published: August 15, 2005

by: Robert Capriccioso

On a recent windy day at High Point Farm in Clarksburg, MD about 280 adults and children assembled for a massive multi-family picnic. Parents were gathered in conversational groups, teens were shooting hoops, and young kids were jumping up and down in a big bouncy bounce shaped like a circus tent.

A classic picnic scene—except for one thing. It was pretty quiet. No screaming kids. No yelling parents. Children looking for adult attention didn’t yell or whine—instead, they waved their hands wildly—or, like one boy desperate for permission to eat another cookie, pulled on a parent’s sleeve.

The picnic is an annual affair organized by Metro Maryland Kids of Deaf Adults, or MMKODA. The organization is part of a growing network that is creating a community for deaf parents and hearing children.

Living in Two Worlds

Amy Crumrine, director of MMKODA, says that such networks are crucial because the hearing kids of deaf parents are often not sure where they stand—either in the hearing world or in the deaf world. "They are in both worlds," she explains, "And while many people think this may confuse the kids themselves, I actually believe having this is a true blessing for the KODA kids."

Thomas Bull, a researcher with Gallaudet University, says that there are approximately 24 million Americans with some hearing impairment, and 2 million with profound hearing loss. Bull extrapolates from that to conclude that there are probably thousands of children under 18 in the U.S. today with one or both parents with profound hearing loss. Since a high percentage of deaf adults marry other deaf adults, many of those children have no hearing parent.

"Of those deaf couples who have children, over 90 percent have children who can hear," he says "A hearing child in a deaf family circle can feel like an oddity. Perceiving the world differently, he or she is part of the family, yet distinctly different."

Rosemary Crumrine, age 7, has slowly embraced what her mom labels her "bicultural" identity.

A Poem by Rosemary Crumrine, age 7
Having Deaf parents is fun.

Deaf Parents are fun because you can use sign language with them.

It is fun flicking the lights 77
times to get my Mom and Dad's attention when I need them.

It is fun having Deaf parents
because I can tap on the table at any time I need my Mom and Dad.

Having Deaf parents is fun.

"Very recently, our daughter started playing on a select soccer team," shares Crumrine. "Unknowingly, there was another KODA player that started in an older girls' team. Both our daughter’s team and the other older KODA girl's team practiced together and they instantly bonded and started talking about their parents who were deaf.

"After practice was over, our daughter shared with us that she would like to get to know more KODA kids," recalls Crumrine. "She didn’t have to tell us, but that night, we knew that she was identifying herself as a KODA and not as a hearing or a deaf child."


Bert Pickell, the founder of KODA Camp Mark 7 in Old Forge, NY says he struggled with complex feelings as a young KODA: "[F]or most of my teen and early adult years I struggled to understand who I was, to develop my own sense of identity. I did not begin to understand who I was until I attended a conference for Children of Deaf Adults International [1] at the age of 28."

Camp Mark 7 began in 1998 with 16 campers and three staff members for a one-week session. This year, 154 kids participated across three two-week sessions. There were more than 80 kids on the waiting list.

Camp activities included swimming, water-skiing, kneeboarding and tubing. Kids also get to paddle a canoe on the Moose River, camp out under the stars, hike and play a variety of summer games.

"We have a track record of about 85 percent return rate from our kids," notes Pickell. "Typically they come for the first time because their parents make them. They come back because they make their parents send them."


Many parents say fluency in sign language is important for KODAs, and that learning to sign also gives them an edge in the wider world.

"I think for most kids it is a benefit to their language development," says Pickell. "I was able to start signing at 6 months of age and that ability to have language carried over when I began to speak."

Researchers with the Gallaudet’s University's Department Of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies, in fact, have found that hearing kids who learn American Sign Language may expand their spatial thinking capabilities, and their ability to learn other languages as well.

"For me, this is the only way I can communicate, so I want my kids to be able to communicate with me effectively and to decrease communication frustration," says Michele Dunefsky, a mother of two hearing children. "For some parents, they may feel uncomfortable in using sign language and prefer to talk, but then they do not realize the implication that it may cause when the child gets older, and at times when the child becomes frustrated or angry or upset, it is very difficult (for the deaf parent) to understand the child."

Parental Challenges

Deaf parents often run into roadblocks when it comes to communicating with hearing adults.

"Deaf parents are usually isolated in the social circles at bus stops, sporting events or whatever and miss out on a lot of information that is circulating all over the place," says Dunefsky. "Some hearing parents are naive and afraid to let their children go over to the deaf family's home because of myths surrounding deafness..."

Many deaf parents interviewed for this article indicate that some in the hearing world still treat them as if they are mentally challenged, and have even seen people go out of their way to avoid them, fearing that deafness is a disease.

Deaf Parents And Hearing Children: No Problem [2]

The Lincoln Journal Star recently published a story about deaf parents raising hearing children.

Dawn Colclasure, a single deaf mother, says she knew her deafness would present some challenges but that she never considered not having children. "I had some major fears, but I have always wanted a family and I knew I could find some way to make things work out."

With daughter Jennifer, age 3, now an active toddler, Colclasure says her biggest challenge is making sure Jennifer is always safe. "For example, if I am cooking dinner, in the shower, etc., I try to have another adult supervising her, but if this is not possible, then I try to keep her within eyeshot and have locks on certain doors so she can't run outside or into a room she's not allowed alone in without me knowing about it."

"I've gone against a lot of rules of parenting," she says with a smile. "I have locks on doors, I let my child sleep in so I can grab a quick shower, I always keep her within eyeshot, I try to hold her arm or hand if we're out in public and I can't see her, I check on her as often as possible if she's in another room, I use Assisted Living Devices and plan to get a hearing dog."

One device that Colclasure found useful when Jennifer was a baby is a special baby monitor composed of a clock with an attached vibrating rod that goes under a parents mattress, and a sound sensor to be placed near a sleeping baby. A cry from Jennifer would activate the rod and awaken her mom. (The Hear More Company [3] is one place to learn more about such devices.)

Raising Awareness in the Hearing World

Many in the deaf community express some frustration about the way some hearing people treat their kids.

"Some people... ask them questions such as how they learned to talk, what it is like living with deaf parents, are you sad that they cannot hear—all that puts the child in an awkward spot sometimes," says Dunefsky. "Deaf parents are willing to answer questions, but there comes a time when questions are not appropriate and put everyone on the spot."

Dunefsky suggests that hearing people need to be aware that the young children of deaf parents already feel different in some way, and deserve to be treated with sensitivity. "When KODA children reach their teens, they are much better suited to answering these questions and feel more confident,” she says.

The issue of interpreting is also a tricky one. It's common, Dunefsky says, for KODAs to be asked to interpret for their parents in a variety of situations, such as at teacher conferences or at the doctor’s office. Dunefsky tells of a situation where a deaf parent was pulled over by police while driving, and the policeman was more inclined to talk to the child passenger than the adult at the wheel.

"Many deaf parents try to prevent the situation from happening by telling the police that they need to communicate by writing and not to involve the child, but occasionally some police and other people who are not very good at writing may feel uncomfortable and try to continue to talk to the child," she explains. "Then it is up to the deaf parent to put a stop to it and assert their right to get the hearing person to talk to the deaf parent directly. It is not fair to put the child into the middle."

Reaching Out

Crumrine, Pickell and several others involved in the KODA networks have said that in the coming year their organizations will be doing more outreach to achieve funding and public support.

"We are going to be a truly national organization..." says Pickell. "One goal is to have 20 one-day events around the country."

Pickell's outreach effort has gone international: In January, he will see the birth of a summer camp program in Argentina. "I had the opportunity to go to Buenos Aires last March and begin that process by sharing this concept with a community that had never really heard of such a thing," he says. "Ultimately the goal of these things is to help the kids see that they do belong to a larger group, that they are not alone—that they belong!"


Camp Mark 7 for the Deaf [5]
Gallaudet University [6]
Double Pride [7]
American Sign Language Teachers Association [8]

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