This article was originally published in HuffPost on July 12, 2017.
Raising a child who is deaf and has additional needs can at times be very frustrating. Our oldest daughter is deaf and has cerebral palsy. After we received her diagnosis, I felt very isolated because I didn’t know any other children who had this particular set of challenges. When Julia was young, people were kind to us but you could always see the sympathy in their eyes. Many times, my wife and I felt like we were the only ones (or at least one of the few) who struggle to raise a child with this unique set of circumstances.
As she grew older, it became very difficult to find schools that could address all of her needs. There are plenty of good options to educate a deaf child but it is much more difficult for a child with additional needs. We had to fight at every turn to prevent our daughter from being labeled as “special needs” and being placed in a corner. It seemed that while well meaning, many educators didn’t quite know what to do with her and thus had very low expectations. As a family, we had to move four times in order for her to receive a quality education. Let me be blunt – life is not easy when you are raising a special needs child. The good news is, you are not alone.
Recently, I read that there are 6.7 million children (or about 14 percent of total public school enrollment) receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and of that number, two percent have multiple disabilities. Among deaf children, it is estimated that “up to 40% of all deaf children will have additional needs which may impact on their ability to learn.” As a parent of a child who attends a deaf school, I see educators who struggle with this issue. Some parents believe that deaf children with additional disabilities cannot learn or will ultimately have a low quality of life. This is simply not true. After years of struggle, my daughter is on a regular education track at her school and is set to graduate with honors. We knew early on that our daughter was capable of great things. We have high expectations for her and insisted that her schools have the same expectation. She now has high expectations for herself. She knows that she can accomplish her dreams, however; she simply has to find her own way of achieving them.
We are not alone in having high expectations for a deaf child with additional needs. Educators are seeing more students in this category and are making accommodations to increase their chances of success. More universities are seeing an increased number of students with disabilities (including multiple disabilities) and in general are more welcoming and are committed to providing accommodations and equal access in order to enhance the college experience. As I have seen first hand, raising a deaf child with additional needs can be challenging, however, there is no reason why they cannot maximize their potential. It is up to us as parents to ensure that they try.