I spent much of my primary school hanging out with my friends in the hearing impaired unit and watching videos to learn how to communicate with them better. I’d run to the class room and spend my lunch hour watching a video or reading books that the teachers would give me. They seemed so grateful that a child from the ‘big school’ as we called it then was so keen to spend time with their students. I asked for some help, and they were all too keen to give it to me with all the resources they could find. I was then asked in grade 4 & 5 to be the liasion student who sat with my friends when they’d join us in our classroom for the occasional lesson.
There were 2 kids in particular, a boy and a girl, who really struggled to concentrate, sit still and express themselves. Their frustration would often boil over into pulling their own hair or hitting themselves in the head, and teachers would refuse to teach them. I remember several times where I was asked to help calm them down and I couldn’t understand why it was so hard. You just talk to them like they are people (holy crap who knew?!) and try to find out what’s wrong by finding a common language, rather than getting frustrated and annoyed. You won’t always get to the bottom of it, but just the trying usually was enough to help their frustration.
Sometimes in the classroom the boy, whose name I will probably never remember, would tap me on the shoulder repeatedly until I would turn around and would ask me a question. But usually I wouldn’t be involved until the teacher would start yelling and the boy would start yelling and then he’d turn to me with helpless tear filled eyes and let out a painful moan that usually just meant ‘help me’.
Imagine being in a position where you could never communicate what you wanted to anyone around you? Imagine you haven’t yet learnt to read and write enough to express yourself quickly but you are trying to ask a question so you can learn. Or not get any further behind everyone else. Imagine you have a friend who can hear, who you love to hang out with at lunch, but she can only sign the alphabet and is really slow at it! Imagine needing a different set of tools to communicate with every person around you. Your parents who raised you to learn basic survival communication. Then your kindy and preschool teachers who are trying to get you to be as much like the other kids so nobody notices you can’t hear. Then other kids. More teachers. Maths. Science. English. Who wouldn’t be frustrated?
Sometimes I was scared being in the middle of that, but I loved my school work and sometimes managed to get him to love it too. I have to admit that I was a bit embarrassed when he would celebrate a win and would try to say my name to get my attention, but with no concept of the volume he was producing. He wouldn’t know why everyone was laughing. But he also celebrated his wins so much he didn’t seem to care.
I didn’t realize at the time that the lesson I learnt was that everyone needs to be validated. ‘Listended’ to. Respected. Important enough for someone to give them a bit of time.
Sometimes I need to remind myself how simple life really is.
I stumbled on this video a few years ago and it reminded me how important it is to know all kinds of communication. Her expression and the way she gets the feeling of the song across with her body is enchanting. I wish every hearing impaired child would have a teacher like this in their life.
Oh, and yes, my friends did teach me all the swear word signs. That’s what good friends do when you’re 10. And together, we swore at teachers without them even knowing.