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August 10, 2005

Hearing parents read with deaf children

From: Arizona Republic, AZ - Aug 10, 2005

Judd Slivka
Special for The Republic
Aug. 10, 2005 12:00 AM

There was crying, frustration.

Parents and a child not understanding each other, no matter how hard they tried.

A child who liked to read, but only by looking at pictures, getting frustrated whenever someone tried to read him a book.

Nearly two years ago, this was the life Beth and Todd Van Zuiden of El Mirage shared with their then-6-year-old son, Cameron.

Deaf since birth, Cameron grew up in a world of total silence and of his parents being unable to communicate with him.

Beth and Todd could do rudimentary American Sign Language, but the great stuff, the silly stuff, the stuff that bonds you with your kids, was beyond their abilities.

And that included reading.

"Parents are afraid to do it because they don't know how," said Raymond Baesler, a teacher at the Phoenix School for the Deaf and the man who eventually became the Van Zuidens' bridge to their son.

"Obviously, there's a language issue. 'How can I read my child a story if he's deaf?' "

There are ways. They're taught to parents so they can read to their children. But the ways aren't that obvious. Act out parts of books with your face. Change your posture when you change characters.

That's what Baesler ostensibly was sent to teach. But it was more than that. He would read a story to Cameron in American Sign Language, then give the book to Beth to do the same.

The Phoenix deaf school is a recipient of money from Target's Ready. Sit. Read! grant program. Some of the money that enabled Baesler to help the Van Zuidens came from the Minneapolis-based retailer's grant to the school's Shared Reading program, which is designed to allow hearing parents to read with their children.

"Before I started the program, I signed and learned a lot of words from Cameron," Beth said. "He would come home from school and teach me. After I completed the program, he was learning from me."

That opened another door.

"We could talk about silly stuff and just have normal conversations," Beth said. "It wasn't just conversations about rules."

Which, in turn, opened up still another door.

When Todd saw how close Cameron was getting to his mom after Beth's work in the program, he asked to learn.

"When my husband got involved in the program," Beth said, "Cameron started seeing he was trying to communicate with him, and he began to get closer to him."

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