This is how we started off the new school year. Over the summer, we moved 214 miles in order for Micah to attend the Florida School for the Deaf in St. Augustine. Well aware that studies show that Deaf students in hearing schools often experience greater isolation and psychological difficulty, my family took the plunge and relocated, hoping Micah would benefit from a campus of deaf peers and a school staff fluent in his language of ASL. Only, we were derailed when the Florida School for the Deaf had not completed his intake process, and we were told he’d have to attend his mainstreamed, zoned school for a month or more prior to enrolling him at FSDB.
All I could think was he would be the new kid. The new Deaf kid. The Only Deaf kid in a school of hearing peers—exactly the academic environment we’d come so far to avoid. We’ll make the best of it, I told him. You’ll have the best of both worlds—hearing friends from your community, zoned school and deaf friends once he could transfer. I hoped I was right.
Studies report 39% of deaf students are rejected by hearing peers. Other studies show, that deaf children are not overtly disliked by hearing kids, but often they are simply neglected. We will beat the odds, I convinced myself. He’ll make friends.
Micah’s biggest barrier is the communication breakdown. Micah does not understand spoken language. And even with years of oral training, most people do not understand his unclear speech. It takes a significant effort to communicate without ASL, and using his voice takes courage. Like most middle schoolers, Micah doesn’t like to draw attention to himself, he’s not comfortable speaking out in school, and he’s easily embarrassed.
Knowing all this, we do our best to instill courage in him. We encourage him to use his voice out in the community, but it’s not easy. This morning, he and I said a prayer before school. I want him to learn he can lean on a strength outside himself. Before walking to the bus, he rubbed the essential oil given to him by his Mimi called “Brave Calm” on the back of his neck and on his forehead. Don’t be afraid to use your voice, I told him. It’s your tool. But that got me thinking: what are other coping tools I can teach him to have positive social interactions in Middle School?
According to the study, Negotiating deaf-hearing friendships: coping strategies of deaf boys and girls in mainstream schools, having confidence is crucial for deaf girls in particular to have healthy social interactions with hearing girls. Deaf girls who are able to play alone as well as assert their needs, have better peer relationships. For boys, being assertive helped “overcome initial barriers,” but other factors came into play even more.
Above assertiveness, the study showed that “the single most effective strategy for deaf boys to achieve good relationships with hearing peers was to excel in sports.” But information like this can be disheartening, because playing team sports when you can’t hear the coach from the side lines is a challenge, and not all boys are athletic. So now what? (Martin & Bat-Chava, 2003)
I draw hope knowing that kids adapt, and coping skills are dynamic. With age, I believe even shy, un-athletic deaf kids can overcome social and language barriers. Given the right coping strategies and tools, there is nothing we can’t face.
So when Micah texted me to say his interpreter had yet to arrive after an hour of the first bell, I admit, I initially felt panicked and heartbroken on his behalf. I made the appropriate phone calls, and I received the appropriate apologies and promises that the mistake would not happen again. I let myself cry for a minute, and then I took a deep breath, and got on with my day.
We don’t get to do the first day of the 7th grade over, but there will be tomorrow, and I hope I’m raising a child who has resilience and the ability to bounce back from adversity. There is no ASL sign for the word “resilience,” but I have seen it signed as turning negatives into positives.
I imagine, Micah isn’t the only one who had a rough start to a new year. While he has communication disadvantages, there are other children starting their first day back at school with their own personal struggles and disadvantages. I imagine, he and our family will have many obstacles to tackle along the way. We’re newcomers to a new town. My kids are making new friends, going to new schools, and living in a new house. Some of these changes we embrace, and some we find pretty challenging.
This morning, we had a rough start. So today, I choose to stay calm and believe that it only gets better from here. If nothing else, at the mainstream school, Micah will learn a few things about what it takes to overcome adversity. And I will have to learn how to let him go.
7 thoughts on “The Illusion of Inclusion: When your son texts you an hour into his first day at a new school to say, “I don’t have an interpreter!””
Man, what a disappointing day. I pray that this will not repeat itself and that FSDB will rectify itself soon.
What a way to start the first day, I’m so sorry you and Micha had to go through that. I hope the next day was better. Best laid plans, I’m sure you made the right decision, it’s just gonna take a bit for it all to go together. Hang in there, and know that your son is very lucky to have you.
Hi! First thank you so much for your sharing as we too are looking to place Elon in the right school to make friends, to be happy and also to have a great academic future. I am so thrilled Micah will go to that school! Thank goodness he only has one more month of this ill adapted public system. Micah is so courageous! He will blossom and have a tremendous future thanks to your family commitment and sacrifices!!! I wish I could tell Micah how much of an inspiration and a hero he is to other little kids. And if that could give him relief, 30 days will go very quickly and never will he have to do that again! Hope to see you soon! We will take on the drive to Jacksonville by next year.
Thank you for sharing from the view of a “Godly Mom”, FROM The raw reality of an HANDSOME son who’s first day of school was extremely difficult!! I’m praying for you,Micah, meeting new friends in an exciting year 2018/2019.
Things will get better, as he gets in his new routine of public/Deaf school in Fl.
Love and prayers for each member of your beautiful family!!
Went to college with your parents and I’m bless beyond my dreams!!
So heartbreaking to read about Micah and his family. Makes me so cross. I have been a teacher of the deaf for over 40 years and have seen how deaf children can florish with their deaf peers at school. They have already plenty of challenge by living in their hearing surroundings when at home with their neighbour – playmates afternoons, weekends and holidays. Give them a break! Let them learn with their deaf or hearing impaired peers.
And this is exactly why I advocate for early CIs and spoken language. This is a situation that my daughter (and my students) won’t have to face.
Heartbreaking! I am so sorry! I just want to share. I met my first Deaf friend, my first day of 7th grade. Because of this friendship- I am an interpreter today. It is true, your son might not make a ton of friends… but the friends he does make will be good kids. I made plenty of stupid mistakes and am so grateful my Deaf friend didn’t give up on me. (closing my eyes- when we were in an argument, and just the pain and patience of my broken ASL- she was always encouraging.) Tell him to hang in there… and I am going to be praying for him too. I hope he finds some really great friends!