One of my oldest, dearest friends has a son with a cochlear implant.
His name is Flynn. He is the smartest, funniest, goofiest, most engaging little boy you’ll ever meet. He’s the younger brother of a glorious, imaginative, sweet little girl and is also now the proud older brother of another magic boy.
I love Flynn. I am fiercely proud of him and proud of his whole family for how hard they have worked to give him every opportunity to make the most of all his other talents that don’t involve having an implant. I know he’ll live a full and amazing life, because of their support and because of that magic spark of intelligence and wit that plays in his eyes.
I have another friend, online, who is deaf, too, but uses sign language to communicate. She is, literally, the most talented person I know. She writes books, creates beautiful art and jewellery, teaches AUSLAN and, in her spare time, creates little zines for others wanting to emulate her in the creative life. I read her books and coveted her art before I knew she was deaf. My lovely editor showed me a necklace made by her. She never mentioned the creator also spoke using those talented hands.
When I found out, it only made me admire her more. The lady speaks another freaking language. I have the remnants of high school Indonesian. Learning more about her and the way she communicates made me think everyone should learn AUSLAN, so we can communicate better with those for whom it is a first language.
My first high school boyfriend had deaf parents. One parent could lip read. One couldn’t. They were both sublimely beautiful people. I loved watching them talking to their friends – how animated and excited they were at being amongst those who fully understood them. I learned basic sign language to communicate with them but I wish I learned more.
I am committed now, because of Flynn and Asphyxia, to learning more. I’ll never fully understand what it feels like to grow up deaf. Nor should I. It’s not for me to appropriate their difference. But I am in awe of both of them and I want to know all I can about their world.
Which is why I loved reading Kathryn Lomer’s Talk Under Water. It concerns the relationship between a teenage boy, Will, and a girl called Summer, who loves reading and painting and animals and cowboy boots … and also happens to be deaf. This book was a lovely portrait of teenage romance (set near where I live! Hurrah!). It was also another insight into life for one deaf person.
Because that’s the thing. Summer, Flynn, Asphyxia, and Robin and Peter – the parents of my teenage love – are all deaf. But that’s the only thing that links them. I don’t know what Flynn will grow up to be – in aviation like his dad, psychology like his mum or something completely of his own devising. But his life will be a very different life from the one lived by my first boyfriend’s parents and by Asphyxia. I just want to watch his journey with admiration and continue to be around his mum, who has worked freaking hard to get him to where he is now. I want to keep reading Asphyxia’s books. I want to keep reading more books about deaf characters. I want a world where deafness is not their defining feature, just as my mental illness isn’t mine. I want a world where every way of experiencing deafness is accepted and celebrated because it’s another way of being unique.
I want a lot of things. And now, as I get off my soapbox, I want the new Robert Galbraith. But, while I take a break from Aussie YA, will you please bombard me with suggestions for which one I should read next? Because I can’t stay away from YA for long. Although if anyone can tempt me away, it’s JK!
And I’ll leave the final word in this post to Asphyxia, who posted this on Facebook today:
“There’s a misconception that lipreading is just like reading a book. You look at the mouth and read, right?
But no, it’s far, far more complicated than that. I have to queue up words in my mind, invent possibilities that fit the facial expression, body language, approximate number of syllables etc etc. Sometimes there are a couple of possibilities, and I hold both in my mind simultaneously, waiting for it to become clear. While I’m doing this, collecting possibilities and sifting through them all, I need to keep the conversation going. So I smile and nod and say ‘mmm,’ and ‘yep…’ as appropriate. If I don’t do that, the speaker stops, and we haven’t gotten anywhere.
Sometimes though, I get right to the end, and I realise that none of the possibilities work. The whole thing just doesn’t make sense. And then I have to say, ‘Sorry, can you go right back to the start?’
And you might wonder, well why were you nodding and smiling and saying yes all along when I didn’t understand. But that’s because it’s how lipreading works. It’s not a lie. It’s the only practical way to do it.
It can take a whole minute or two after the speaker finishes, that it suddenly comes to me what was said.
As you can imagine, this is incredibly hard work. I have an hour of lipreading in me a day, tops. After that, fatigue sets in. And if I go too far, pushing myself for maybe 3 hours, I am WIPED afterwards, and my head pounds. It can literally take me days to recover.
This is why, even though I’m a pretty competent lipreader, I prefer other modes of conversation.
If you’d like to do your bit to help raise awareness, feel free to share this post. Thanks!”