A long journey with my deaf child: two Vietnamese mothers tell their stories

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Implemented from 2011 to 2015 in Hanoi, Thai Nguyen, Quang Binh and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, the Intergenerational Deaf Education Outreach (IDEO) Project has helped prepare 255 deaf children under 6 years old for formal schooling by learning sign language. Using an innovative approach, the project set up “family support teams”, making up of a deaf mentor, a sign language interpreter and a hearing teacher, to teach sign language for the children in their homes, with their families. Let’s follow two mothers in their journey to support their deaf children speak with sign language.

Sign language is the common language in my house (Nguyet Ha, mother of Dao Quang Lam, a five-year-old deaf boy)

 

Nguyet Ha and her son Lam at an event 
for the Deaf community taken place in Hanoi. 
Photo: IDEO
Đào Quang Lâm is our first son. He was born deaf. Since finding out about this when he was 10 months old, we have not stopped looking for ways to help him with this challenge, from using traditional medicine to modern technology, including hearing aids and a cochlear implant. All efforts failed to help him make any progress.

We love him so much and feel so sorry for his misfortune that we became very protective of him. Lam became a very dependent child and could not do anything by himself. He did not feel the need to communicate with the people surrounding him. All he did was point, cry or scream furiously when he wanted something, because we could not communicate with him.
  
In April 2014, while Lam was attending an integrated class at Xa Dan School for deaf children, we were introduced to the IDEO project and sign language. Every week, teachers came to our house to teach Lam sign language and we took him to the sign language center to study with other deaf children. We ourselves attended sign language classes for parents. With this method, Lam very quickly caught on and could learn as much as his hearing peers do. Teachers were impressed with his intelligence.

Our family has also learned a lot of sign language vocabulary and in that way communicate with each other. When Lam was three years old we had a second child, a baby girl, and he started to withdraw from me and his sister. I could not explain to him how much I loved him. In my very first sign language session, I asked the teacher how to sign “Mommy loves you.” I signed that many times every day, holding and kissing him. As time went by, sign language became a common language in our family and it links us together.

Our life changed and Lam is now much more independent. He likes this very much and is no longer afraid of going to school. He has a rich sign language vocabulary. Lam’s baby sister started to sign with her tiny hands and he was very excited about that. When the four of us sit down together and learn sign language, we feel so joyful and the house is filled with laughter.

In the evenings, when my husband and I are both at home we only use sign language so that my son has extended time in his language environment. Lam is attending 1st grade soon. Our only wish is that he can have the opportunity to study by sign language, and we are doing our best to make that happen.

My son is just a boy with a different language (Phuong Ha, mother of Khoi Nguyen, a six-year old deaf boy)

In 2009, my son Khoi Nguyen was born after much anticipation and joy. As he grew, there were signs pointing to a problem. He did not speak or turn around when called. I taught him to speak but he refused to learn.

After knowing he was deaf, my husband and I desperately tried to find therapy for him. During that time, I sent him to an integrated school. After two months there, he was cranky and insecure. One day, he collapsed and he was unable to hang on to me, his eyes slightly closed and his mouth stiff. Too frightened, we stopped his schooling immediately. Our doctor believes he may have suffered from a nervous breakdown as a result of psychological pressure. 
 
Khoi Nguyen learns sign language with a Deaf mentor at home. Photo: IDEO

After careful consideration, we sent him to Xa Dan School at the age of three and a half. But his temper was still a problem; he often screamed and hit others or himself. I think this was perhaps because he could not express what he needed and people could not understand him. We had no way to communicate and educate our son. We were so discouraged and did not want to go on.

In 2013, the IDEO project began in his school. At that point, I didn’t know what sign language was. I was reluctant to participate in a discussion with the project team as we were still looking at the possibility of a cochlear implant. A discussion and an activity organized by the project changed my mind and lightened my life with hope and belief. I met deaf people. They were beautiful, confidently sharing with us the stories of their lives, their journey of learning, growing and achieving success. I sat there watching their hands move and listened to the interpreter. We decided to let our son join the project.

In July 2013, Nguyen started his first sign language sessions with his deaf teacher. In the beginning, he did not cooperate and refused to learn. The deaf teacher was very patient, and I studied with them. In time his attitude started to change. His hands started making simple signs such as going to the toilet, eating, watching TV. As he realized that sign language is his own language, he agreed to learn and made great progress. He learned how to sign his name and how to count, learned about colors and nature. He now knows how to express his feeling: happiness, sadness, hurt or anger.

I also attended sign language classes for parents. We set up a parents association to help each other learn. I started to be able to talk with my son, from simple to more complex conversations.

As he was finally able to communicate, my son was less angry; he liked to sign and chat. After school, he would come home and tell mommy stories from class – something that just a year ago I could never have imagined. Nothing could describe our happiness. My son’s life is now filled with love and care from family and community, he had an opportunity to fully develop with the utmost support from the IDEO project. Project staff, parents of deaf children, deaf family mentors, interpreters in Hanoi, Quang Binh, Thai Nguyen and HCM City, all came together to take action for the future of Vietnamese deaf people. 
 
Phuong Ha and Khoi Nguyen and his younger sister use sign language to tell a story 
at an event for the Deaf community taken place in Hanoi. Photo: IDEO
Every time they visit us, his grandparents remark: “Nguyen has grown up, he is very smart and knows everything.” My son is just a boy with a different language.

Related links:
 
Press release: Helping Deaf Children in Vietnam Communicate and Access Education through Sign Language
Infographic: The Intergenerational Deaf Education Outreach Project
Video: Helping Vietnamese Deaf Children Speak with Sign Language
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Huong Lan Vu

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Lynn Losert
August 20, 2015

Great story! I understand completely how learning sign language is the key to their development and understanding their place in the world. A supportive family and learning environment are critical. I have two deaf siblings (in the middle of seven children)who attended the state school for the deaf after encountering severe learning and social issues in a normal classroom. They came home signing and the rest of us pressured them into teaching us so we could all communicate together. Now all my family of seven siblings happily sign and talk at the same time! Great work of IDEO!

eusebiopecurto
August 20, 2015

Thank you for this history of deaf children. Solidarity social institutions which have help millennium generation vulnerable to have a better future.

Mathenge
August 14, 2015

Wonderful, we have share the story with Prof. Michael Ndurumo (he himself hearing impaired) of the University of Nairobi Kenya, School of Psychology. The moral of the story being, there is no insurmountable challenge that these youngsters cannot overcome be anything great in life when encouraged as did the Prof.
The second point was a discussion point we had with him on developments in technology in this challenge area, the Cochlear Hearing Devices, which are gaining currency in Australia where tech 1st developed, South Africa where a Nephew of ours has had a successful implant recently and in Europe, where Prof attended the latest conference in Athens. For young children this technology may be a solution for pedagogic learning.

Hellen Witek
August 13, 2015

Great story.I enjoyed reading it. Kudos =)