April 27, 2016

Homeschooling When Your Child is Deaf {Homeschooling: Keeping It Real Series}

I am pleased to share with you a beautiful post written by my friend Sara who blogs at Adventures at the Hawk's Nest. She has graciously and eagerly written a post for my Homeschooling: Keeping It Real Series in which she shares about an unexpected adventure and challenge she and her husband faced, after adopting their beautiful son two years ago. Without further ado, I turn the microphone over to Sara to let her share her story...

Our son arrived home on December 10, 2014. We knew, long before then, that we wanted to home school any children we might have. But we hadn’t anticipated the extra challenges that could be waiting for us now.

Ethan was 19 months old and had lived most of his life, up to that point, in a foster home in Kunming, China. 

Our son was also deaf.
His profound hearing loss was an effect of a syndrome known as Waardenburg Syndrome. It has four main categories, each with its list of moderate to severe symptoms. Thankfully, the only symptoms Ethan had of this syndrome were his hearing loss and a pair of beautiful, mostly-blue eyes.

There are many challenges to rearing an adopted child. I won’t go into those here; that’s not the purpose of this blog. But I will touch on one – developmental delays. It is estimated that, for every year a child is not with a forever family (whether they are institutionalized or fostered), they are six months delayed developmentally.

This turned out to be true in Ethan’s case. At 19 months old, he was barely pulling himself up and walking around furniture. His neck muscles were as wobbly and weak as a child half his age. And he had no language whatsoever other than whining and pointing. (he did laugh and cry as well)

My husband, Brian, and I had learned some basic sign language before we traveled to China. Things that we would need every day: Daddy, Mommy, bath, diaper, eat, various foods, etc. We began using these with him as soon as we met him.

For several weeks after we got home, Ethan didn’t understand. He knew that our hand motions meant something, but he just didn’t catch on. When it finally clicked, it was amazing! He began to realize that he could actually communicate wants and needs with these silly hand motions that Daddy and Mommy were doing! Everyone’s frustration level dropped – it was incredible. Immediately, he began soaking up new signs like a sponge! He would point to things, and many times I would have to go online and look up signs, so I could tell him what they were! I was encouraged that now he could begin to catch up developmentally – he had a language.

It was determined that Ethan was a good candidate for cochlear implants, and the audiologist and surgeon agreed that the sooner he could begin hearing, the better. He was at a crucial age for language development to blossom in his toddler brain. We learned that if that part of the brain that is used to grow language skills is not used by the time the child is 7 or 8, it is commandeered by the brain for other uses. Isn’t that amazing?

Ethan had bilateral cochlear implant surgery on May 29, 2015, just a month after his second birthday. After everything healed up, the implants were activated on July 2nd. When he first heard a sound… he was terrified! He cried and clung to me. It took three people to hold him still long enough to get just one of the processors on, so the audiologist could program it. 

I was so discouraged. I felt like I had helped him learn as much as I could through sign language, and I couldn’t fathom how I could go on teaching him and helping him grow in understanding if I couldn’t do it through speech.

Long story short, the following day he was willing to wear one of the processors, and he has progressed to now wearing them both all day, every day (when he’s not sleeping). In just 8 ½ short months, he has gone from making cooing and guttural noises to saying “mama”, “Annie” (our dog), “ball”, “banana”, “nine” and dozens more words – however imperfectly (they are still music to my ears). But he has grown so much!!

And just a couple months ago, I realized I had again hit a plateau in my “teaching”. He was becoming bored with his toys, no matter what we played with. I was still teaching him speech, but I was at a loss as to what other kind of activities to do with him, other than your typical toddler play. I have no educational background – I am a slightly obsessive-compulsive bean-counter. Which also means that I don’t have a creative bone in my body! 

I knew he needed something more than I was giving him, as far as new challenges and new activities to help his little brain keep learning and growing. So Brian and I talked about it, and we decided to purchase the preschool curriculum from My Father’s World. I had been looking at their catalog for over a year, wondering if, when the time came, it would work for us and fit Ethan’s learning style. I hadn’t really considered using a preschool curriculum, but  I really needed some help, and I thought this would be a great way to try out their program, too. I wasn’t sure if Ethan was ready for something like this, but we could always hold off and try again later if it turned out that he wasn’t.

So, our home school journey began! I think I was as excited as Ethan was. This particular curriculum has 12 units. Each 3-week unit focuses on a character trait, an animal and a color. The activities include pretend play, story times (with lots of supplemental books), beginning science “experiments” (like mixing food coloring to make black), making play dough, pudding finger painting and making juice popsicles, among others. I am so thankful that someone has laid out all the plans for me – I wouldn’t know where to begin to do something like that.

So far, he is loving it. He gets so excited when I get out the teacher’s book and see what our activities are for the day. Ethan has used water color paints and scissors for the first time. He helps turn over the activity cards on the refrigerator when we complete them. He loves to help me in the kitchen, so when we make the play dough or jello, he is standing on his chair right there beside me. 

I’m not sure how much of the concepts he understands, especially regarding the biblical character traits. I don’t know how much of that is just his age and how much is due to only hearing for 8 months and just not quite understanding abstract principles like love and patience. But I do know that if we keep telling him about them and teaching him about them, he will eventually understand. Repetition, right?

He doesn’t seem to have many days yet when he doesn’t want to sit down and do the activities or doesn’t want to go over his memory scripture, but I’m sure those days will come. It seems to be MY attitude that is more of an issue sometimes than his! I’m discovering how truly selfish and impatient I am. The repetition is great for him, and I know it helps cement things in his mind at this early age. But there are those days when he wants me to read the same book for the fifth time, or he wants me to read the unit poster to him AGAIN (I already read it six times today!)…  I don’t have time right now; I have a sink full of dishes to do! That’s when I have to step back, take a deep breath and realize that this must be what God goes through with us! Every day! Thankfully, our heavenly Father is SO patient with us. He will show us His Way again and again, until we finally get it.

How much more important is it to engrave God’s principles on my son’s heart than to have all my dishes done? How much more important to teach him to love God and others than to have all the household finances filed neatly away?

I don’t really consider Ethan to be a special needs child, since he seems perfectly normal aside from his hearing loss. However, according to some definitions, he is considered such. The last time he was assessed developmentally, he was right where he should be for his age group, except for his language skills. And since then, his receptive language skills have sky-rocketed. 

Do I have any extra challenges in home schooling? Probably. But each child presents their own set of challenges to a home schooling parent, don’t they? Mine may be different than yours, but not necessarily worse. 

I plan to stay with this curriculum through all 12 units, and we’ll see how Ethan progresses with his skills, understanding and language. And how I progress with growing in patience and dealing with chaos. I get the feeling, though, that it won’t take long until I’ll be hard-pressed to keep up with him in schooling!

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About Sara

I'm a late-in-life adoptive mom. So thankful to be able to stay home and raise and teach our son! My husband, Brian, and I live outside Shreve, Ohio on 3 acres, where Ethan can run and play. We both grew up raised as Christians, and we want Ethan to grow to have a heart that loves and obeys God. You can check out the journey Sara and her husband had in their adventures with adoption on her blog Adventures at the Hawk's Nest!