Growing Up a Child of Deaf Parents

What is it like to grow up as the hearing child of deaf parents, a CODA? Jake, a hearing adult who had grown up with now deceased deaf parents, shared his own experience with Read Jake's story, which takes place decades ago. What has changed and what is the same for children growing up CODA today?

Q: What time period did you grow up in?

A: I was born in 1956, so my childhood years would have taken place mostly in the '60s.

Q: How did you learn how to talk? (How does a hearing child whose parents don't speak, learn how to talk?)

A: I was the firstborn, and there were no other hearing people who would regularly stop by, so I learned to speak when I was old enough to go outside to play with the other hearing children around age 4 or 5.

Q: Were you ever embarrassed that your parents were deaf?

A: I remember when I would sign to my parents in the car, my parents would tell me to keep my hands down a little more. I think that may have contributed to my being somewhat embarrassed about attracting any kind of attention to signing in public. However, I never would hold back and wait to tell or ask my parents something until we were in a more private area, especially [when] interpreting for them with merchants and other business people.

Q: How did your parents manage parent-teacher meetings at school?

A: They never went.

It may have been because the '60s was not the era of the interpreter. Nor were they ever summoned to come to school on account of any behavior problems. Same was true as far as attending our neighborhood church. However, I remember one time my mother did come to school, while my first grade class was in session, and I subsequently found out that it was because she was told that I needed to repeat the first grade.

Q: How did your family socialize?

A: Growing up, my parents took us children to amusement parks, one-week summer vacations to the New Jersey shore and to visit their adult deaf friends on a Saturday evening or on a Sunday, and many of them had children close to my age. They also had their deaf friends come over to our house on the weekends for visiting.

Q: Did you have any hearing or deaf siblings?

A: There were only two children in our family, and both of us were hearing. It appears that my father was accidentally deafened while still in the womb or upon birth, while my mother's was caused while still an infant. In addition, no relatives on either side of both parents were deaf or hard of hearing.

Q: How did your parents interact with the hearing parents of your friends?

A: My parents mostly socialized with their deaf friends. However, on our city block of 20 row homes (Philadelphia, Pa.), there were, including my parents, four deaf people! My parents would socialize with these other two as well.

As far as hearing adults in the neighborhood, my parents, especially my mother, would speak with them, but it was never really for extended visits except for a few exceptions.

Q: Were your parents actively involved in the deaf community? If so, did they bring you along to deaf events and social gatherings?

A: Yes, my mother would bring us to various deaf functions in the Philadelphia area (where she grew up), such as functions at churches, bingo, movie night, picnics at the PA School for the Deaf and at the former home for the Deaf and Blind, etc. My father was from New Jersey, so all four of us would go to the deaf clubs and functions in New Jersey.

Q: Anything else you want to add about the experience of growing up CODA?

A: Yes, the above questions touched on areas on which I'd like to elaborate:

  • I did not attend a preschool, nursery school or kindergarten, which I'm sure delayed my language acquisition as a hearing child and probably caused both my sister and me to repeat a grade in school.
  • Back in the '50s, there were no diagnostic tests to see if a child was hearing or deaf at the time of birth, so my parents were very anxious to find out if I could hear or not. I'm sure they would have loved deaf children, if they happened to have any, but they preferred to have hearing children.
  • Even though my parents provided the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing well for us two children, they weren't able to foster self-confidence in us. I think it was because they felt that if a person was hearing, he/she came adequately prepared to face life. As a result, I still struggle with issues of self-esteem. Now at age 51, I still labor at low-paying jobs, have never had a long-term relationship, etc.
  • I think hearing children born to deaf parents grow up feeling a part of BOTH the deaf and hearing worlds, but many deaf, especially ones I meet for the first time as an adult, seem to put us in a strictly hearing category and ignore me somewhat. (I can understand that they may have felt the same way going to deaf schools with practically an all-hearing faculty and staff, etc., and [with] family who didn't bother to learn sign language or excluded them from family discussions.)

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