Parents of Deaf Kiwis shift from 'fix' to 'embrace' mentality

Laura James
Source: 1News

The attitudes of Kiwi families with Deaf children have shifted in recent years, according to advocates.

Historically they've found parents want to "fix" a deaf child, and focus only on cochlear implants and hearing aids.

"I remember seeing some parents extremely emotional that their child was deaf. They thought their child was broken. They thought they won't be able to communicate with the child, the child will be isolated," NZ Sign Language advocate Victoria Lessing said.

But now she says, as NZSL gets more recognition, more and more parents are embracing the language.

Lessing's celebrating the change this NZSL week, saying it makes a huge difference for children.

"For the deaf children, they feel acknowledged... like 'I feel like a real human'."

Tauranga mother of two Amee Hudson is incorporating NZSL into the communication in her family home, after her daughter Brielle started losing her hearing.

She was diagnosed with Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome four years ago, and in recent months she's become profoundly deaf in her right ear.

"It is likely that she will eventually lose all of her hearing that remains," Hudson said.

"It was difficult at first, trying to accept Brielle's hearing loss.

"It's been a great journey actually, we've really enjoyed learning sign language... We use it all the time in the home and the kids have adjusted really well to learning it."

English is still the main language in their home, but she says they use Sign whenever they can, "especially to help our daughter in restaurants or cafes when she just cant hear anything".

Hudson says connecting with other families on the same journey has been really useful, as have ongoing lessons.

Lessing said she's seeing increasing demand to learn from "not just the parents, but the extended family, grandparents, cousins, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles.. the whole family".

"The sign language courses we have available in New Zealand at the moment just doesn't meet the demand."

Hudson said she'd love to see NZSL built into the school curriculum, saying it's made a huge difference in the lives of those without hearing.

She said people would be surprised at how often they would use NZSL.

"I had a lady who came into work yesterday and she was deaf and I could have a conversation with her.

"I remember snorkelling in the islands and me and my husband were having a discussion underwater about what fish we could see."

She's encouraging parents of children who're Deaf or hard of hearing to embrace the language.

"You've got nothing to lose, and it's a great, great journey."