I grew up with Deaf parents and I am hearing. AMA.
I also posted this in r/AMA so I hope it's ok to post it here too.
I am what's known as a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults). Both my parents are profoundly Deaf (you can scream in their ears, they won't hear anything) and BSL was my first language.
I thought people might enjoy this too, it's me age 4 in an RNID book called Sign and Say, demonstrating BSL signs. : https://www.flickr.com/photos/missfrantical/albums/72157632971529239
The only proof I can think of is a video of me signing, so here it is: https://photos.app.goo.gl/4vX6cUBoy2RHFYcj1
Here are a few answers to the most common questions:
I signed before I could speak (started at 7 months). I did not have any speech delay as my parents made sure I was exposed to English a lot. My grandparents are all hearing and I saw a lot of them, and I went to nursery at 18 months. Some CODAs do have speech delays but it's not that common.
No, I am not an interpreter and I do not want to be one. It takes many years to qualify as a SL interpreter and while I am fluent in BSL, I am a lazy signer with bad habits and would not make a good professional interpreter. And it's hard work and the hours are rubbish.
I never really did sneak out without my parents knowing, despite being able to. When you're a CODA, your parents have to have quite a lot of trust in you and you tend to be fairly responsible IME. I understood that it was unfair to take advantage in a way that would be frightening for them because they'd be unable to contact me (I was a teenager in the 90s, before mobile phones and texting). I did however play my music loud and have very loud sleepovers. And I would just turn my back if I didn't want to talk to them, or hide my mouth behind my hand if I wanted to talk to someone else without them seeing.
I was making phone calls and interpreting for my parents by age 4. It did feel like an imposition sometimes, but the balance is that I grew up being able to take care of shit. I am good at sorting things out, making sure people understand situations, and generally adulting. I am also not shy at ALL. When you grow up with people staring at you for signing, you just learn to deal with it.
For me, the deafness is not hereditary. My mum had meningitis when she was 2, and my dad they just don't know. There's no other deafness in the family.
My house was not quiet. It was in fact very loud. Deaf people don't know how much noise they're making, so there was forever a clattering of pans, doors banging, loud farting, stomping, shouting when they had friends over, and well, the less said about mealtimes the better.
Sign languages are not universal. I cannot understand ASL.
I know there are quite a few other CODAs on here so if they'd like to join in answering questions, or have different experiences than mine, that would be welcome.
Yes, all the time when I was an angsty teenager. I used to yell FUCK OFF at the backs of their heads.
For a while, I was convinced the whole deaf thing was an elaborate prank and would talk to them when they couldn't see me, saying things "I know it's not true! I know you can hear me!". Either wasn't an elaborate conspiracy or they're VERY good actors.
Yes, but not just behind their back. My brother and I would mumble bitchy comments about mum and dad while were all sitting at the dinner table together.
Totally did this too.
Are you in therapy due to your parents having loud sex all the time?
You know, I never once heard them. Deaf people have sex with the light on, they don't need to make noise.
Deaf people have sex with the light on, they don't need to make noise.
I'm not seeing the connection here.
The noise is often a signifier to the other person that you're having a good time. No need for it if the deaf person can see you.
Do you feel like this arrangement afforded you more privacy in the house?
What things did you do to take advantage, besides loud music which you mentioned earlier
I had a lot of noisy sleepovers.
I had teenage parties where they would stay upstairs and we'd be downstairs talking about who is going to get what drugs, and who is having sex with who, and so on.
I got in free to theme parks, as their able-bodied carer.
I played the sympathy card often at school.
I mis-interpreted at school parents' evenings when the teacher was less than favourable.
I got sent on free holidays for CODA kids.
Why do you indicate them as being "Deaf" instead of "deaf"?
Because they are both culturally Deaf as well as physically deaf. The capital D denotes that they consider themselves part of the Deaf community, with all that entails. They go to deaf clubs, they use BSL, their friends are all Deaf. It's much more that just having no hearing.
I've heard about this difference before. To the point people who get cochlear implants were often shunned from (big D) Deaf community. I've even heard members of the Deaf community calling cochlears an attempt to destroy their community.
That sort of blew me away. The idea that if somehow a complete cure was found - there might be people who would refuse it or even protest against it for destroying their culture.
My parents would never get a cochlear implant, even if it would help. They are Deaf, that's what they know. They do not want to be cured.
If I had deaf child, I would probably allow him or her to have an implant if it would be beneficial to them.
I'Ve heard (very few and highly anecdotal) accounts of hearing parents of Deaf children feeling pressure and prejduice against them from people within Deaf culture. Do you have any such accounts in reverse?
I've never experienced anything like that. I've always felt like an honorary Deaf person.
Was your speech devlopment delayed? I really don’t know how else to ask it. Did you not learn how to speak as early as other kids because your parents weren’t able to speak/teach you how to talk?
Never fucking mind. I should probably read the post before I ask a question. Literally #1 on your list.
No, I did not have any speech delays. I signed first, at 7 months, but learned to speak at the same time as other babies. My parents made sure I spent a lot of time with hearing relatives (mostly my nan) and then I went to nursery full-time when I was 18 months old.
She answers this in her intro questions, no she wasn't
*edit: he to she
Was there ever a particular situation where you felt especially overwhelmed by the responsibility for assisting your parents? Your parents sound perfectly functional and intelligent, but I can only imagine what happens if there's something like gunfire and they have no idea it's even happening.
Then again I'm in the US, so gunfire may not be a typical British problem.
I was always frightened there would be a fire in the night and I'd have to be the one to wake them. It never happened. We were burgled in the night once but I slept through the whole thing so it made no difference.
There were times when I had to interpret for them in situations I shouldn't have. My mum had mental health issues for a while and aged 14 I had to call her psychiatric team when she had a breakdown, and interpret what was going on while she was sectioned. That sticks in the memory.
Mostly it was more irritating that overwhelming - people speaking to me when they should be talking to my parents. Like asking an 8 year old in a restaurant "What would they like?" instead of asking them directly. My parents encouraged me to say "I don't know, you need to ask them" (and I enjoyed being that obxious :D )
You know, they actually make smoke detectors for deaf people. They make some that shake the bed, or have a bright strobe light, or both. Would be worth looking into.
They do now, they didn't when I was growing up in the 80s.
Yup, same for phones too (teletype machines too, or whatever is used nowadays), I think. Either that or some people will get service dogs that are trained to alert them in an emergency, or if the phone rings, or if someone is at the door.
My mum has a Hearing Dog!
Don't know your age right now. If you are young, later in life you'll be glad for being so useful in their life. Same happened to me (not deaf mother) and by the time it seemed like a burden, but now I'm grateful for everything, even the hard times.
Congrats for your strength and humor.
Thanks, but I'm almost 40 :)
Since your parents were deaf I imagine that they had closed captions on all the time. Did you experience any faster learning curve when it came to learning to read and write?
Yes! Closed captions did help me learn to read, I was an early and prolific reader, and nowadays I actually work in the closed captions industry! I have them on at home all the time too, and it has helped my daughter learn to read too.
Thank you! I love watching TV and movies with the captions on (I'm not hard of hearing) and it's starting to catch on with the rest of my family (also no hard of hearing) too. I find that it's easy to miss what's said and that the captions lag just ever so slightly so that I can catch in text what I miss via audio.
Perhaps you can clear up a question for me. I've always wondered if the captioning for live events is automated, done live, or done live but with some technological assistance. Do you know?
Live subtitles are done vie re-speaking. A person stands in a booth and repeats everything that's said into voice-recognition software that is attuned to their voice. It's a very difficult job, here is a useful article about it:
Do you prefer subs or dubs, then?
Did you ever get woken up at night by a frightening thud or sound and have to wake them?
How does it work when you’re a baby and crying at night? Did you sleep in their room a lot?
No, I never had to wake them in the night although I was always afraid there would be a fire and I'd have to be the one to wake them. It never happened.
When I was a baby they had a flashing red lamp next to their bed which would flash when I cried and wake them. My mum said when she was really tired she'd just turn it off...
My grandmother was deaf and I had heard through stories that she used to tie strings on herself and her children when they were young so when they got restless she could feel it and go see what was happening.
Yes, I heard stories about that sort of thing too!
Have you ever said to your SO something like, Don't worry you don't have to be quiet before/during sex while you were living with your parents?
Did they ever have any hearing guests over while you were in the house having non-quiet sex? (that you know of)
No, but I did once assume that the friends they had over were deaf and then had a loud argument with my boyfriend in the kitchen, before finding out they could hear it all.
I’m currently in an ASL class (level 2 of 4 I will complete) and my professor mentioned that the term “hearing impaired” can be offensive. My brother has bilateral hearing loss and doesn’t sign, but my family and I always used the term to describe him. Have you heard of it being seen as derogatory?
No, I don't find that term derogatory. Standards differ between US and the UK as to offensive terms, but I would say that one is pretty innocuous.
Looking at the pictures, I can't believe nobody has pointed out what an adorable kid you were!
Do you ever think in BSL?
Yes, I do sometimes think in BSL, especially concepts that exist in sign language but not in English. There's a sign that kind of means "That's typical" that I think in a lot.
I can understand some basic ASL that shares with BSL - drink, sleep, that kind of thing. But I don't know the alphabet or any non-obviously-gestural signs.
When you think in BSL, is it visual (what the sign looks like) or kinesthetic (what it feels like to make the sign)?
It's visual, and kind of I feel in my arms and hands what it would be to make that sign.
Did you scream obscenities behind their backs when you got mad at them?
Yep, all the time.
My mother is deaf and after the first time I did this, I never did it again.
We were arguing in the kitchen and after she won, she went downstairs. I yelled, "fuck you bitch," and she was back up the steps in a second asking me what I had said.
For a few years after that, I was convinced she wasn't deaf.
My mum told me years later that she knew I was doing it. She could feel it. She just let me.
Something I've always wondered, is do deaf people understand sarcasm? Like when you were an angsty teenager, could you communicate your sarcasm effectively? If so, how does that work?
Yes. You use a sarcastic face, basically.
So they never said, "Junior, turn down that music!"?
Only when it made the floorboards vibrate.
Did your parents being deaf cause you any embarrassment as a child/teen?
Sometimes when they would should or talk loudly in a quiet place, as they both have loud, "deaf" voices. But honestly, I just learned to deal with it. I have no problem with people turning to look - a weird, loud sound just happened and it's naturally to look. But don't keep staring.
I was always quite proud of our difference, and of this thing that was special about me.
I love AMAs from normal people in rare situations. Couple random questions:
Waiting for the bathroom... did your parents just leave it cracked a lot? If someone is taking a hot shit how do you not walk in on them? Occupied sign?
Subtitles on everything? Were TV and movies still a part of after-work past time? Did your parents have favorite movies? What were they?
They just locked the bathroom! If it's locked, someone's in there, and you jut have to wait. If it's desperate, stamping hard on the floor repeatedly will get their attention.
How do deaf parents take care of babies? A baby crying in the middle of the night wouldn't wake his parents. Just wondering how that would work?
Nowadays there's all kinds iof apps and technology. When I was a baby it was just a red flashing lamp.
Was it just a sound-detector that lit up when you were crying?
Do your parents ever get embarrassed about farting loudly in public?
Not really, tbh. They're both able to tell when they're farting! They hold it in if they think it's going to be a noisy one. My house and the deaf club, that's fart central. It's great, you can really let them rip.
Can you sign while drunk? (Does it get slurry?)
Yes, it gets a bit wavy.
How is British Sign Language different? Is it like ASL but more sarcastic?
No, it's completely different. Different alphabet, different signs.
Not sure of your parents speaking capabilities but if they speak with a slight accent (Is the best way I can put it) did it affect the way you learnt to speak?
Yes, they have "deaf" voices, my mum more than my dad. I can understand them perfectly, obviously, but other hearing people find my mum very difficult to understand.
It did not affect the way I learned to speak and I did not have any speech delays. When I was leanring to speak, I spent a lot of time with my nan, who was irish, so I had a slight Irish accent for a while. Then I started at nursery at 18 months old, and just joined in with the rest of the hearing world.
I heard that people born deaf... fart with no sense of embarrassment. Is that true? (Like they just do it while talking to non-deaf people )
No, that's not true. You can feel when you fart, and they know it makes a noise. But deaf people do get used to farting freely at home, and sometimes forget when in public.
Did you ever feel disconnected or ostracized from your parents or their friends in the Deaf community because you could hear?
Sort of. It has sometimes been hard to have complex emotional conversations because it can be difficult to convey in sign language what I feel in English.
I went to the Deaf club twice a week growing up, until I was a teenager and wanted to pull away and do my own thing and be more part of my friends' worlds.
I've never felt ostracized from the Deaf community because I could hear, CODAs are basically honorary Deaf.
but honestly, I've been ok straddling the two worlds. Some find it difficult but I haven't.
Serious question- from your experience do you feel like there is any difference in sympathy between deaf people and hearing people?
Sometimes our tone of voice gives away a lot of emotions we try to hide. Deaf people are probably more in touch with body language which may compensate, but a lot of fully deaf people I've known are a lot more guarded with strangers and seem less sympathetic. I haven't met enough to get a robust sample size though :)
Interesting question. Are you hearing? If so, you're likely to experience more guardedness and less sympathy from deaf people. As an "insider" I haven't found deaf people to be any less sympathetic than hearing people. I find that deaf people are more likely to be able to pick up on how someone is feeling because they're more adept at reading faces.
Can your parents talk? Can they lip read? Do you interact with many other deaf people? What was your first sign?
They can talk, but they both have "deaf" voices - my mum can be difficult to understand if you don't know her. Yes, they can both lipread.
Yes, we're part of the Deaf world - all their friends are deaf, I grew up going to Deaf Club twice a week, I have lots of CODA friends.
I think my first sign was either "drink" or "sleep".
Have your parents ever had a full-blown argument? If so, what was it like?
Yes, all the time (they're divorced!). It was like any arguemtn. They shouted, signed in an angry manner and stormed off.
Yes! I pronounced the "b" on the end of "lamb" for ages, and thought lasagne was "laz-ag-nee".
Is there anything random about deaf parents that you wanna let us know about? Or maybe a funny story about something your parents did?
One thing a lot of people don't realise is that when your parents are deaf, you always have to go to them when they call. They're upstairs and shout for you? You have to drop and every and go to them, no shouting "WHAT?" or "BE THERE IN A MINUTE!". It's maddening.
Also, you always tell each other when you're going to the loo. Off for a shit? Must inform the whole household in case they need you and don't know where you are.
Funny story? Hmm. Once when I wqs a baby my mum couldn't find me in the house and was searching desperately for ages, terrified, and unable to hear my cries. She found me head-down in a waste paper basket. (I was fine)
I'll try and think of some more.
What was the coolest thing about having deaf parents?
Being different in a cool way, and knowing BSL. BSL has been invaluable in my life and in my career. And it's beautiful.
I've heard that babies who are taught even simple signs are much less prone to the Terrible Twos. Were you a calm toddler for that reason?
No, I was an insane running-way toddler who drove my parents mad.
My bf's brother and his brother's wife are both deaf. When I found out I was kind of excited. I wanted to learn some SL so I could be polite and communicate with them. However my bf doesn't have the same feeling.
He says growing up with his brother, and interacting with others in the deaf community, deaf people tend to be very prideful/narcissistic. That they actually hate people who can hear because "they think that because we can hear, we think we're better than them."
And that some deaf people hate those who can hear and try to learn SL. As if they should remain in separate worlds.
How true do you feel this is within the deaf community?
When you're Deaf, and you hang out with Deaf people, it can fucking tiring having to deal with hearing people who want a medal because they learned how to say "How are you?" in SL. You know they have good intentions, but honestly, it can feel patronising that a hearing person thinks they can join in a conversation because they've done a few classes and how hard can it be to wave your arms about.
That said, deaf people can be dicks just like hearing people, and that behaviour is kind of dickish. Your BIL might really welcome you learning some signs. I don't think that's up to your boyfriend to decide.
As a parent, not being able to hear my kids cry or yell when they need help would frighten the hell out of me. Did you ever have an instance where you needed their help but couldn't get their attention?
Not that I can recall. Deaf people have better than average peripheral vision, and naturally as parents kept an eye on me more than hearing parents would. And I knew to stay in their eye line. My dad has rescued me from drowning in pools, caught me when I've fallen, he was always watching.
What happened if you ran out of toilet paper?
Deaf guy from USA here... i’m curious about your culture with Deaf people.. do you interact with them other than being with your parents? or absolutely nothing... Do you ever feel like yourself when you are in hearing culture?
reason why i asked this, i know too many CODA and they never feel complete only until they are with other CODAS.
I don't have many deaf friends my own age, but I am friends with a lot of my parents' friends and their children (my fellow CODAs). We do have a special bond as CODAs but I wouldn't say I feel incomplete in the hearing world.
What's the most frustrating thing you've had to interpret for your parents?
Fucking banks, man. BANKS. They won't let you interpret for them, or speak for them, but then refuse to communicate by email or text. They make you go round in circles, speaking to managers, demanding you put a 100% deaf person on the phone. Every time.
Same goes for utility companies, phone companies, all that shit. It's maddening.
I'm hearing and my daughter has severe/profound hearing loss. She's two but has been aided since she was 7 weeks old. What advice do you have for me? She is advanced in speech and doesn't sign much anymore.
Difficult one. I'd say that if she wants to sign, let her. Let her spend time with other deaf kids. Don't make her pretend to be hearing.
And never, when she asks what other people are talking about, say "It doesn't matter" or "Never mind". I know it's frustrating to have to interpret, but it's more frustrating being shut out from what's going on around you.
Have they ever asked you about what it's like to hear?
No. They sometimes ask me if something is making a sound, but not about the experience of sound, no.
Since sign language is your first language, do you think in BSL by default?
No, I mostly think in English now, but occasionally in BSL.
What's the sign that your parents make when referencing each other/you?
I'm currently learning PTSL since I'm slowly turning deaf because of a genetic condition, I haven't got a particular sign for myself so when I sign my name I have to flip people the bird twice. It's interesting.
I used to be "gymnast", as I was a gymnast for most of my childhood, but now I'm just "F". My dad is "big round belly" and my mum is "actress" or just "C".
I would guess that most deaf people marry other deaf people* -- how did your folks meet?
did you get to watch a LOT of TV as a kid, since it was a source of speech?
*Deaf not deaf?
My parents met at a deaf club in the 60s. They were both mods and my mum liked my dad's Lambretta.
When you had friends over, did you often translate between your parents to your friends? Did any friends have any thoughts on your parents?
Yes, I always interpreted, until they knew them well enough to talk to them themselves.
What is it like when they laugh? Do they sound different or just the same? Do they make a noise?
They sound just the same. :)
Can your parents lip read? And when translating for them in person do you repeat what someone else is saying out loud, or just sign?
Yes, they can lipread. When interpreting, I sign.
I coach siblings who have parents who are deaf and have wondered how they manage their sex life being deaf with children in the house. Did you ever hear your parents having sex? I know it takes significant effort for my partner and I to remain unheard and I just wonder what it's like for a couple who wouldn't be aware of how loud they are being.
No, I never heard them. Either they were very sneaky or they didn't have sex (I prefer to think the latter).
Well hey there Fran! Glad you're doing this AMA.
So what I've always wondered is what things were like when you were a baby. How did your parents know you were crying at night when they were both asleep?
Is that the Ender I know? :)
They had a sound-activated red flashing light by their bed that would wake them up.
Does your mom remember hearing anything before she became deaf at 2? I have a few visual flashes of memory from age 2, but no memories of sound, so I'm curious if losing that sense preserved the memory of the sense more than normal.
No, she has no memories of it at all. But she can remember being in the hospital (it was 1950, she was in hospital for 18 months).
What is your best experience with your parents?
Oooh, difficult to say. In what way?
I have noticed you have answered the same question over and over again. So here is mine. How is your day going so far?
Thanks mate! It's alright, I've just finished work but there's delays on the Picadilly Line so I'm stuck at Acton Town. You?
I have heard of deaf parents who have deaf children who refuse treatments for them (surgeries, hearing aids, etc) because they think it lessens deaf culture, or because they do not consider themselves disabled. I have even heard of one case where deaf parents wanted to cause their hearing child to be deaf so they would be part of the community.
Obviously none of those situations apply to you, because your parents actively supported your English. But if you were to have a deaf child with a type of deafness that was treatable, what would you do?
I would like to see the case where the deaf parents cause their hearing child tobe deaf. Because I have seruous doubts that's ever happened.
I do have a child, but she's hearing. If she were deaf then I would look into cochlear implants but make a decision based on whether it would be a positive thing for her based on her level of deafness.
I know you said you didn't really sneak out, but did you ever sneak girls in?
I did once sneak a boy in, yes. Heh.
This might be a little insensitive if it has happened, but has it ever happened that you've been screaming for their help (due to some injury etc.) and unable to walk to them (or text them) to seek help? What did you do in such a situation?
No, that's never happened that I can recall. They always kept me within view when necessary. And I guess I learned not be a bit more self-sufficient. To this day, if I hurt myself, I don't cry out. I obviously learned that there was no point. But there was never a time when I was placed in danger because they could't hear me.
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OP please post proof I want this to continue :( it's really interesting
I added a video of me signing It's Beautiful World, is that enough? I'm at work and can't do a picture with a placard or anything!
Do you ever say things behind your parents back? Kind of like a kid sticking their tounge out or giving them the finger when their parent turns their back.
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